Anyone who has taken a U.S. History class or an Anthropology class has probably heard of the Scopes Monkey Trial. It was a case of religion vs. science. In 1925, biology teacher John Scopes went against Tennessee state law and taught his class about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The trial became a huge media event and attracted big name attorneys on both sides of the issue: three-time presidential candidate Williams Jennings Bryan took the side of religion, and famous lawyer Clarence Darrow argued in favor of science. While the characters have different names, Inherit the Wind tells the story of this famous court case, and does a pretty great job doing so.
Though this is a historical film, the characters are quite compelling. Obviously they, as well as the story, have been dramatized and exaggerated quite a bit compared to their real life counterparts. Nonetheless, the film does make an effort to stay true to history. In Inherit the Wind, the John Scopes character is pushed into the background (a bit too much unfortunately), and the focus is on the two attorneys and their opposing ideologies. Spencer Tracy plays the agnostic, pro-science Henry Drummond. He is assertive, but not preachy about his beliefs and struggles to have his voice heard in a town referred to in the film as “the buckle of the Bible Belt”. Meanwhile, the townspeople view Christian fundamentalist lawyer Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) as a sort of saint. He is loud and overbearing to the point of being rude, but the townspeople adore him anyway. Stepping in as a sort of voice of reason is a reporter played by Gene Kelly, who is clearly on the side of science.
All of the acting in the film is quite exceptional. Spencer Tracy and Fredric March play characters who are opposites in nearly every sense of the word. Tracy is quieter and more thoughtful, but also seems much more willing to hear other’s opinions about an issue. March must be close-minded, preachy, and rude for his character. Though entirely different types of performances, both men are very convincing in their roles. The real stand out for me, however, was Gene Kelly. Kelly was famous for singing and dancing in colorful musicals. In Inherit the Wind, he is outside of his comfort zone in a dramatic film and he does wonderfully here. His character is snarky and quick-witted. I found him to be the most delightfully entertaining character in the film.
One thing about Inherit the Wind that I found a bit heavy-handed was how mindless the Christian townspeople seem to be. Not a single one seemed to be anything other than a sheep and their reactions to the case were all very disheartening. I myself am an Athiest that is pro-Darwin/evolution and even so, I found the portrayal of Christians in this film to be a tad too negative. I see the points the movie was trying to make by making townspeople so ignorant, and agree with many of them, but the ideas could have been handled in much more subtle ways.
Overall, Inherit the Wind is really interesting film to watch. All of the acting is absolutely fantastic, the characters are interesting, and the story itself is intriguing as well. While I felt the film was a little overbearing in the way it stated its messages, there is no denying that Inherit the Wind is a film worth seeing. I highly recommend this film for any history buffs out there.