Thursday, March 10, 2011

Inherit the Wind

Directed by Stanley Kramer.
1960. Not Rated, 128 minutes.
Spencer Tracy
Frederic March
Gene Kelly
Dick York
Donna Anderson
Harry Morgan
Claude Adkins
Noah Beery, Jr.
Florence Eldridge

Local school teacher Mr. Cates (York) is arrested for violating a law that strictly prohibits teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. This is Hillsboro, Tennessee, a deeply religious town where creation is the universally accepted belief with regards to how man came to be. This belief is so strongly and widely held that any other is both a legally punishable and spiritually damnable offense. The national media gets hold of the story, helping to start a firestorm around the small town.

In short order, two renowned lawyers descend upon Hillsboro, taking opposite sides of the issue. For the prosecution, and creation, is Matthew Harrison Brady (March). He believes the Bible to be 100% true, accurate, Divine Word. He also loves the sound of his own voice, delivering many a blustery speech. As reporter E. K. Hornbeck (Kelly) puts it, Brady is the only man who can strut while sitting down. The town loves Brady’s voice, too. They’re entranced by his bellows and treat him almost as if he were actually the Messiah.

For the defense, and evolution, we have Henry Drummond (Tracy). He’s a man for whom free speech, and free thought, is sacred. He recognizes their importance in the progression of mankind. Brady and the townspeople characterize him and his client as atheists. Whether or not Henry is opposed to God is something we’re asked to ponder throughout. What isn’t in question is that he is against the bigoted, narrow-minded beliefs espoused by many of the devoutly religious. He’s also opposed to blindly accepting every word of the Bible as infallible. He equates such behavior with not thinking at all. Is this enough for him to be accurately labeled a non-believer?

The two men go back and forth, as lawyers do. Henry is obviously swimming against the tide. Brady is not only going with the tide, he seems to be in a luxury liner. He’s quite literally preaching to the choir. It’s as if the entire fate of the universe will be decided by a race in which the only two participants are traveling in opposite directions.

When it’s all said and done, there’s still the question of who really won. More importantly, who lost? The verdict, and conclusion of the movie are both open to interpretation. Clearly, the movie appears to be one side over the other. Still, the end of the film is not a finale. It is the starting point to a conversation that may never end.

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