Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inherit the Wind (1960)

Inherit the Wind is based on a Robert E. Lee (no kidding) play about the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial. The play was also made into a TV movie three times, in 1965, 1988, and 1999. I suppose we are due for a another. Some of the details and all of the names were changed from the historic case, including the name of the town.

The defendant is a young school teacher (Dick "Durwood" York) who makes the mistake of teaching evolution, which is a crime. It town is outraged and fiery lawyer/politician Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) storms into town to save them from this evil heretic. Liberal lightening rod Henry Drummand (Spencer Tracy), hired by the Baltimore Sun, arrives to defend the "only thinking man in town". Gene Kelly tap dances with his mouth as smart alec reporter E. K. Hornbeck.

Inherit the Wind was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best actor for Tracy. The Apartment won best picture that year, with Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Alamo, and The Sundowners also being nominated. I have not seen any of these films, but I refuse to believe that Inherit the Wind wasn't clearly better than at least two of them. I will have to see for myself.

Like many plays-to-movie conversions, the dialog was very quick, sharp, and witty. The best lines were written for Kelly. "He's the only man I know who can strut while sitting down", "It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", and many more. Tracy and March, former allies turned political adversaries, have some great scenes together.

Harry "Sherman T." Morgan (still living) plays the judge. A young Norman Fell has a small role. Claude Akins, who has been in an episode of everything, everywhere, is the zealous Reverend Brown. The actor is so very familiar but I can't place what I most remember him from. I watched a lot of TV during the 70's and 80's and he was everywhere. Noah Beery Jr, who was in everything Akins was in +1, has a small role.

At 8 minutes past two hours, I feared that the movie would be tedious. It was not. Every scene was crisp and interesting. An important movie, I would argue (evolution was still a hot-button topic and this was also during the McCarthy trials), but also a very entertaining one. I need to see it again. AMRU 4.

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