xDir.: Stanley Kramer; Cast: Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Claude Akins, Donna Anderson; USA 1960, 128 min.
Director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) often used his films for progressive arguments: Judgement at Nuremberg, On the Beach, Ship of Fools and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are a few examples. INHERIT THE WIND is a rerun of the famous “Monkey Trial” of 1925, when a young school teacher was on trial in 1925 because he was teaching Darwinism and denied the biblical account of creation.
Needless to say, this argument is hardly an historic one: ten years ago, 38% of American teenagers believed that God created the universe within the last 10 000 years, and 54% of adults do not believe that humans evolved from other species. In 2006 Darwinism was on trial again, this time in Dover, Pennsylvania.
In the original Monkey trial in Tennessee, schoolteacher John T. Scopes was accused of violating the recently passed law, stating that nobody was allowed to deny the biblical story of creation. Scopes was defended by star attorney Clarence Darrow, whilst the prosecution was led by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. To emphasise that that nothing much has changed, Darrow’s hefty fee was paid by the Baltimore Sun papers, represented by the famous journalist H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial extensively.
In Kramer’s feature Darrow becomes Drummond (Tracy), Bryan is HarrisonBrady (March), Scopes is called Cates (York) and Mencken morphs into EK Hornbeck (Kelly). The courtroom battle is centrepiece of Inherit: Tracy and March slog it out in the best Hollywood tradition; their speeches are long and passionate. After judge Mel Coffey (Morgan) has sided with the prosecution and disallowed Drummond’s request to hear six scientific witnesses, the lawyer calls Brady to the stand – as a witness for the defence. Brady, bombastic and grandiloquent, cannot resist the bait: when quizzed on biblical details, Brady goes so far, as to nail down the hour of creation exactly: Nine a.m. on October 23rd 4004BC.
The scenes outside the courtroom are mixed: A preacher and his followers stage a fair in the town of the trial, presenting a smoking monkey, whilst a barker agitates the masses, telling them, that this monkey is proof, that humans were not preceded by monkeys. A sub-plot, involving the engagement of Cates with the preacher’s daughter Rachel (Anderson) does not add anything; the preacher, frothing at the mouth, calling his daughter “a creature of the devil” is simply wildly over the top.
In spite of its length and overly verbose content, INHERIT is still a fine example of challenging fundamentalism. Acted brilliantly by the two male leads, recreating the atmosphere of ignorance and aggression in the American South the feature is carried by the images of veteran DoP Ernest Laszlo, who started his career in the 1920, and was active into the late 70ies (Logan’s Run). His roving camera makes the courtroom look more like a battlefield than a house of law. AS
ON DUAL FORMAT RELEASE COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA ON 21 May 2018