Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly
This movie was pretty amazing. It’s a courtroom drama, so basically the whole thing rests on the two lawyers (especially since one of the lawyers calls the other as a witness for the most emotionally-charged sequence of the film). But you could do way damn worse than Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.
Inherit the Wind is a dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial, where a teacher (played here by Dick York) is arrested for teaching evolution in his class, which is against the law in this southern state. The ensuing trial turns out to be a simulacrum for the argument of Darwinian evolution against Christian creationism, which means that when the verdict finally comes through and it’s really just a fine for breaking a minor law, the lynch mob gets up in arms for not being able to set fire to Dick York. Which I can understand.
Just like how the trial wasn’t really about whether the teacher broke this law, the movie wasn’t really about the teacher’s innocence or guilt. The whole thing hinges on the two lawyers arguing either side of their philosophy, and we get some glimpses into how each of these affect their lifestyles. Now, this movie clearly portrays March and the creationists (have you heard my new band?) as the villains, and even in some cases as violent idiot psychopaths. It’s a little too bad, because this heavy bias makes the actual arguments between the characters seem less valid, but it’s still a fantastic film. Also because of this bias, I’m not really sure if I could recommend this movie to non-Atheists, because I’d imagine it would be a little insulting. But hey, maybe not. I’m sure you could just cast these people as zealots and enjoy the film for its merits regardless of your religious preference, but I wouldn’t really know.
As an atheist, I just want to mention that I found a lot of this film to be very powerful and moving. Just imagining that people could get that violent and angry about teaching science in a school sends shivers up my spine. Sure, it’s obviously an exaggeration, but it’s definitely based in fact, and this was something that happened less than a hundred years ago. We’ve gotten a lot more tolerant as a society about a lot of things since the 20’s, but it just seems strange to me that freedom of religion is one that’s still such a big issue in the 21st century. Personally, the one and only time I’ve ever been in a fight (well, I didn’t really fight, I just got my ass kicked) was because of my atheism, and I didn’t even grow up in the south.
Personal anecdotes notwithstanding, Inherit the Wind is a fantastic film with some spellbinding performances, complexly flawed and human characters, and Dick York. I heartily recommend it to everyone who doesn’t think they’d be offended by their religion being presented as a pack of crazy people.