Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

January 17, 2014 at 10:15am

Check This Out: "Inherit the Wind"

"Inherit the Wind," the fictionalized account of the Scopes Monkey Trial, might just be the greatest courtroom drama ever written.

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Every Tuesday, and sometimes on Friday, "Check This Out" recommends movies available at your friendly local library. So you can satisfy your next film fix at the place with the books.

If Hollywood in the '60s needed an "issues film," Stanley Kramer was usually the man for the job. As director he observed the complexities of intermarriage in 1967's Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, and in 1961 looked at the Holocaust from behind a witness stand in Judgment at Nuremberg. Kramer made Inherit the Wind just a year before Nuremberg, and also finds drama in a compelling court case, this time the Scopes trial of 1925.

No surprise, but for a while the film didn't seem like the ideal choice for Saturday night entertainment. First you have Dick York (remember him from Bewitched on Nick At Nite?) as Bertram Cates, a teacher imprisoned in a small fundamentalist town for discussing evolution to his students. A brave act, but curiously the screenplay decides early on that his character doesn't need much depth, so York has not a whole lot to do besides looking glum behind bars and in court.

Then you have the arrival of E. K. Hornbeck, sarcastic newspaperman played by song and dance man Gene Kelly (which, for a guy who's only seen Kelly sing in the rain, seems an odd casting choice). Hornbeck the enlightened northerner has travelled South to see for himself this unjust imprisonment, packing with him plenty of smug quips and prejudices of his own about this backward Bible Belt community. Like Cates, this 1-D character fails to generate much sympathy or interest.

So what - or who - gets Wind blowing in the right direction? Hang in there for the first 20 dull minutes of this film, Stalwart Viewer, and things improve once the lawyers come to town. Matthew Harrison Brady, the bald firebrand beloved of the townsfolk, represents the prosecution, while Henry Drummond has taken on the challenge of defending Cates. Respected actors Fredric March and Spencer Tracy give it their all to produce some pretty spectacular courtroom fireworks. These battles of faith versus scientific inquiry, sprinkled with wit and logic, give this otherwise unfocused film a much-needed jolt of energy.

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