A souped-up Hollywood adaptation of the historical Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925: a high school science teacher is tried for teaching Darwin’s theory of the evolution to his students on account of the violation of a Tennessee’s state law. Under the able hands of Stanley Kramer, INHERIT THE WIND sets two Hollywood titans (Mr. Tracy and Mr. March, both two-times Oscar recipients) against each other in their friend-and-foe collision in this sweat-box courtroom drama.
Sometimes, one has to see it to believe (although paradoxically, cinema is an art-form of illusion in its nexus) that, barely one century ago, humanity has once descended onto a level so hidebound and fanatically idiotic, and it is not a beauteous sight at any rate (unnervingly relevant to today’s milieu, one has a fair reason to be vigilant that a giant and similar regression might be right in the offing). To a liberal mind, why “the right to think” needs to be pointed up in a legal court is beyond belief, and one’s mild contempt cannot be mitigated by Kramer’s rip-snorting deployment aiming to heighten religious bigotry and hostility: whether it is that poignant chanting of OLD TIME RELIGION by an uncredited Leslie Uggams opens the film, or a grand pageantry to glad-hand Matthew Harrison Brady (March), a beloved statesman and the standard-bearer of biblical piety, to join the prosecution team; or the appended fictitious story between Rev. Brown (an imposingly conflicted Claude Akins) and his daughter Rachel (an equally conflicted and tormented Donna Anderson), who is the fiancée of the defendant; or the townsfolk’s relentless marching demonstration of baying for blood, all of which ultimately render the ending a shade anticlimactic.
Henry Drummond (Tracy), Mr. Brady’s arch enemy in the regard of religious fervor, comes to the aid of the ill-fated defendant Bertram Cates (a callow but unshrinking, martyrdom-seeking Dick York), along with a cynical newspaperman E. K. Hornbeck (a boater clad Kelly, blithely shooting sideswipes with his scarcely tapped straight-facedness) to warrant a national coverage of this hot debate. Needless to say, the meat of the film is the verbal face-off, Mr. March (won a Silver Berlin Bear for his grandiose hyperbole but snubbed in the Oscar race), firstly comes off as a vainglorious dogmatist, repugnant prima facie, but significantly blunts our antipathy through the scenes with Ms. Brody (played by his real-life wife Florence Eldridge, graced with a hallmark of sensibility and empathy), Mr. Brody is nothing less than a buffoon blinkered by a misinterpreted belief to a point, after his feet of clay is disclosed, he is summarily deserted by his followers, and when his cant-ridden peroration sounds his death knell precipitated by his undue gluttony, there is pathos oozing.
Mr. Tracy, chalked up his 7th Oscar nomination out of an aggregate of 9, is undisputedly at his best whenever he gushes with meticulous long-takes (as in other two Tracy-Kramer collaborations: JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG 1961 and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER 1967), potently elicits searing emotion with immaculate immediacy but also conspicuously serves justice to the script’s dialectics, and what can one say? Just watch and wait to be awestruck.
A quintessential pedagogic lesson about human and humanity, INHERIT THE WIND should be promulgated as an elementary school staple for every pupil to acquire how to accept and embrace pluralism and individuality among others, maybe, that is the cure for massive cock-ups scouring our present universe.
referential points: Stanley Kramer’s JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961, 8.1/10), GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967, 7.6/10), THE DEFIANT ONES (1958, 7.9/10), SHIP OF FOOLS (1965, 6.4/10); Sidney Lumet’s 12 ANGRY MEN (9.0/10)