“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.”
I decided I needed to see more movies made before the 70s. One day, when I couldn’t think of any, I decided to watch a random movie I’d never heard that had been nominated for, but not won, the Best Picture Oscar. I quick google of “Academy Awards 1960” (year chosen randomly) and I ended up watching Inherit the Wind. I’ve talked about the virtues of watching a movie with no preconceptions here before, and Inherit the Wind just solidified that opinion.
One day, small town school teacher Bertram Cates (Dick York) is giving his students a lesson in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Before he can even get to the fish crawling out of the primordial ooze, he’s under arrest. You see, local politician, lawyer and fundamentalist Christian, Matthey Harrison Brady (Fredric March) railroaded through a state law banning education that goes against the idea of creationism.
When Brady also decides to act as the lawyer for the prosecution, the case immediately becomes a media circus. To even the playing field, liberal journalist EK Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) convinces his newspaper employers to bring in left wing legal superstar, Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracey) to act as Bertram’s defense.
Here’s the best and worst thing about Inherit the Wind. It tackles religion and the narrow mindedness of fundamentalism in a way that I never expected form a black and white move that’s more than half a century old. That was surprisingly awesome and progressive. Which is really cool. It’s also the worst thing about Inherit the Wind because it made me realise how little has changed in that half century. If anything, the world has gone backwards.
Reading the Wikipedia page for this movie and the IMDB trivia, I kept expecting to find stories about protests against Inherit the Wind from its time of release. When none appeared, I googled it looking for controversy. While I didn’t find any articles about the movie being protested back then or since, what I did find was an article about a theatre refusing to let a performance of the play of Inherit the Wind go ahead in 2013.
A movie based on a true story from the 20s, made in the 60s, taking a pretty literal swipe at McCarthyism and general conservatism, Inherit the Wind is some lefty, liberal minded brain porn. It’s also a kind of depressing sign to realise that if anything, it would be more controversial if made today than it was at the time.
Also, you get some Gene Kelly action where he’a allowed to just act. No song or dance corniness. So, if the whole religion stuff sounds too heavy for you, watch it for Gene Kelly’s sarcastic zingers.