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Inherit the Wind - DVD Review

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Inherit the Wind - DVD Review

3 stars

I know someone who refuses to watch any movie more than once. After my second viewing of Inherit the Wind (1960), I think she might have the right idea. The first time I watched this classic, the performances of Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly and Fredric March really impressed me. It seemed like everyone in the fictional town of Hillsboro, Tennessee could deliver fiery and impassioned speeches at any time, on witness stands and in pulpits. The courtroom scenes brought other great dramas to mind (I half expected Fredric March to bellow, “You can’t handle the truth!”).

This time around, the performances still hold up. These outstanding actors go as far as possible with the material but there’s the rub: the material. Inherit the Wind leaves no room for nuance or subtlety. Its world views are as black and white as the movie itself, which is a shame. The writers blew the chance to make a more intelligent, thoughtful movie.

Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the famous evolution case, known as the “Scopes monkey trial,” that took place in Tennessee in 1925. Like The Crucible did with the Salem witch trials, Inherit the Wind uses a historical event to attack McCarthyism. But questions of free thought and censorship are hotly debated in every era. In fact, some of the lines could easily come from the cultural warriors of today.

School teacher Bert Cates (Dick York) is arrested for teaching evolution in violation of the law. To defend him, hotshot lawyer Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) comes to town along with a throng of reporters. The town leaders bring in Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March), well known as a respected politician and a man of deep spiritual convictions. Meanwhile, Bert’s fiancée Rachel (Donna Anderson) clashes with her reverend father (Claude Akins), who believes Bert to be an evil deceiver of the youth.

The trial brings the whole town together and also attracts national attention. In a sweltering courtroom the two lawyers go head to head, with Henry exposing the holes in Matthew’s fundamentalist beliefs. Finally defeated and humiliated, Matthew blurts the names of Bible books: “Genesis! Exodus! Leviticus! Numbers!” With the usual melodrama, he collapses and dies shortly afterward.

This scene is typical of the movie as a whole, where people are either good or evil, rational or foolish, pro-science or pro-faith. The townspeople are stereotypical ignorant hicks. Over time, they turn even more into caricatures. “We’ll hang Bert Cates to a sour apple tree! Our God is marching on!” they sing, while burning an effigy of the science teacher. (Heroic Bert listens sadly from his jail cell.)

Other aspects of Inherit the Wind haven’t aged well, either. Rachel’s scenes in particular play like a cheesy Fifties soap opera. In one hammy exchange she tells Brady’s wife, “I want the world to know Matthew Harrison Brady is a fake!” Mrs. Brady gasps, “Rachel!”and slaps her. Is it just me, or do the women in old movies slap each other all the time? Use your words, ladies!

For all its divisiveness, there’s one part of the movie believers and unbelievers can agree on. After the trial, Henry Drummond is in the empty courtroom with E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), the smug and condescending reporter. “You know, Hornbeck, I’m getting damn sick of you,” Henry says. Amen to that.

This disc is part of studio Kino Lorber’s series of classics. The only supplements included are 3 trailers for other Stanley Kramer films. The movie itself is the meat here.

Inherit the Wind - DVD Review

MPAA Rating: PG.
Runtime:
128 mins
Director
: Stanley Kramer
Writer:
Nedrick Young, Harold Jacob Smith
Cast:
Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly
Genre
: Drama | History
Tagline:
It's all about the monkey trial that rocked America.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Do you ever think about things that you do think about?
Distributor:
United Artists
Official Site:
Release Date:
November 1960
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
June 9, 2015
Synopsis: Based on a real-life case in 1925, two great lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.

Inherit the Wind - DVD Review

Blu-ray

DVD Details:

Available on Blu-ray - June 9, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.66:1
Subtitles
: English
Language:
English
Discs: Single disc (1 DVD)
Region Encoding: A/1

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

Bonus: Inherit the Wind Trailer, On the Beach Trailer, Judgment at Nuremberg Trailer

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