Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


INHERIT THE WIND (1960). Director: Stanley Kramer.

"Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding!"

In 1925 John T. Scopes was arrested in Tennessee for teaching the theory of evolution to his students. Clarence Darrow defended him and William Jennings Bryan acted as prosecutor, while H. L. Mencken covered the "monkey" trial for a newspaper. In a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, which fictionalises the story. the characters were changed into Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) for Darrow; Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) for Bryan; Bertram Cates (Dick York) for Scopes; and E. K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) of the Baltimore Herald for Mencken. The play and this film version thereof adds a further complication: Scopes/Cates is engaged to the daughter, Rachel (Donna Anderson), of the local preacher (Claude Akins), who is a borderline fanatic. The main strength of this film, besides the exchange of ideas and the notion of casting off narrow minds, is the acting by the two leads, both of whom are superb. March, in particular, possibly gives the best performance of his career, full of nuances, and giving his character enough charm to understand why people like and enjoy him even when they think he's dead wrong. [Florence Eldridge, who was married to March in real life, is also notable as Brady's wife, Sarah. And Gene Kelly is so good as Hornbeck that he proves to be far more than just a song and dance man and a fine dramatic actor. ] There is, perhaps, a little too much dramatic license; for instance, it doesn't make sense that Drummond wouldn't ask for a recess after Brady's brutal examination of Rachel. The movie is serious and sickening under the amusement and banter, as timely today -- if not more so -- than it was in 1960. It's weakest moment is the sop to the religionists with Drummond carrying a bible out of the courtroom at the end. Still, it was brave of Kramer and the others to make the film way back in 1960. Leslie Uggams sings "That Old-Time Religion" over the credits.

Verdict: Powerful stuff with two massive lead performances. *** [half a star taken off for that compromised ending].

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