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Inherit the Wind Reviews

Reviewed By: Mike Cummings

This made-for-TV film is a worthy adaptation of the play that Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee completed in 1950 and staged in 1955. Its major theme, the sacredness of truth, was a paramount issue in the early '50s, a time when Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunts bent truth into falsehood and innocence into guilt. Because this theme remains timely today, the play and its film incarnations are popular in schools and colleges. Based on the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, TN, in 1925, the drama pits scientific enlightenment against religious obscurantism as it unfolds in the fictional town of Hillsboro. Specifically, it debates whether schoolteacher Bertram Cates (John T. Scopes in real life) has a moral right to teach Darwin's theory of evolution even though Tennessee law upholds creationism. George C. Scott performs capably as Mathew Harrison Brady, the fictional counterpart of the real-life William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925). Bryan, a former Democratic presidential nominee, championed a literal interpretation of the Bible and helped prosecute the schoolteacher Scopes (1900-1970). Jack Lemmon performs equally well as defense attorney Henry Drummond, the fictional counterpart of the real-life Clarence S. Darrow (1857-1938). Darrow, a prominent lawyer, championed the rights of underdogs and liberal social causes. However, neither Scott's nor Lemmon's portrayals, admirable as they are, quite measure up to the fiery performances of Fredric March (Brady) and Spencer Tracy (Drummond) in the heralded 1960 black-and-white film adaptation of the play. The energy, the power, and the tension of the March-Tracy clash is simply too intense for an aging Scott and Lemmon to duplicate. To its credit, the 1999 version, like the 1960 version, presents Brady as a man of integrity and conviction in spite of his Luddite religious views. It is he who scolds an overzealous minister after the latter calls down the wrath of God on his own daughter, a supporter of the schoolteacher. Quoting chapter 11, verse 29, of the Book of Proverbs, Brady tells the minister, "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."