Inherit the Wind (1960) 4/5 (5)


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Rating: The Good – 80
Genre: Drama
Duration: 128 mins
Director: Stanley Kramer
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly

Brilliantly complex analysis of prejudice, hypocrisy, and belief starring Spencer Tracy as a defence attorney who travels to the deep south to defend a school teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution to his class. It’s amazing to see how much the issues raised here resonate with the arguments of today and how promoters of ignorance haven’t changed in how they muddy intellectual debates with emotional blackmail, threats, and over-simplistic arguments that appeal to the intellectual laziness of the masses. The latter is mercilessly embodied in the performance of Frederic March as the prosecutor in the case but the actors are all immense with Gene Kelly’s against type turn being the most interesting and Tracy’s compassionate intellectual being (as usual) the most stirring.

Stanley Kramer’s direction and Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith’s adapted screenplay make for a powerful combination with the latter capturing the bible belter’s frenzied intolerance for any opinion that’s contrary to their own with a calm humour and no little skill behind the camera. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Welles at his best as the town sheriff and preacher meet in anticipation of their arrest while the courtroom sequences are delicately framed to allow the cerebral undertones bubble to the surface. The screenplay is even in poise and wonderfully true to the reality in which people relate to reach other. It would have been easier to lean towards caricature given the inflammatory subject matter but instead intelligence and debate are at all times held in primacy.

The major strength of Inherit the Wind, therefore, is its integrity in addressing the debate of science versus religion in the most mature and comprehensive fashion. There are no soundbites here just great acting and discussion. When points are made, it happens in between the lines but, for those who are paying attention and treating this as an analysis of intolerance in general (not just from one side), they are made with thunderous resonance.

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