‘Inherit The Wind’ is truly one of the greatest courtroom dramas ever offered by Hollywood. Based upon the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the movie spotlights the Scopes Trial (also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial) from 1925, in which a teacher was arrested for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in a Tennessee school. Of course the portrayal here is much larger than life than the actual legal case, and any administrative procedures or application of substantive law all fall by the wayside in favor of witty dialogue, mesmerizing drama, colorful characterization, and morality lessons galore. (If a mainstream movie were to depict any real-life courtroom formality, it would be longer than ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and ten times as tedious.) To the play’s credit, the writers admit that the story is a fictionalized accounting of the original events, and since the movie sticks to the original work nearly line-by-line, so too should that fact be kept in mind when viewing this classic film.
Dick York (best known as the first Darren from ‘Bewitched’) plays Bertram Coates, a school teacher who is first introduced teaching a class about Darwin. He is arrested almost immediately and placed on trial for his blasphemous ways. Frederic March (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Williams Jennings Bryan, the real-life prosecutor of the original Scopes trial) plays renowned political figure Matthew Harrison Brady, a celebrated figure to the Bible-thumping townspeople as part of their cause against Coates. Spencer Tracy assumes the role of Henry Drummond, attorney for the defendant whose world weariness and flippant attitude contrasts greatly with Brady’s grandstanding self-righteousness. Henry Morgan plays the Judge, and Gene Kelly plays a newspaper reporter who doesn’t bother to show his disdain for the prosecution. Also notable is Claude Atkins as a zealous reverend, and Donna Anderson as his daughter and the girlfriend of the accused.
Because this movie was filmed in black and white and stars such a classic cast of actors from the golden age of Hollywood, it’s almost startling to see how this direct and uncompromising this movie is in tackling the controversial subject of creationism versus evolution, as well as addressing the McCarthyism subtext. The acting is grandiose (though not cartoony) and the rapid-fire dialogue is theatrical and rousing, particularly during the climactic scenes where Bryan is cross-examined as an expert witness on the Bible. It’s easy to see why this play has already been re-made three more times in the last fifty years for television, given the timelessness (for better or for worse) of the subject matter. Director Stanley Kramer was well-recognized for directing movies which dealt with social issues like anti-semitism (‘Judgment at Nuremberg’) and race (‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ which also co-starred Spencer Tracy) and he avoids any “dumbing down” on this material.
There is no doubt that this film does take on a political point of view, but some concluding dialogue between the defense lawyer and the reporter offers a bit of balance to the all the didacticism. Unless your beliefs fall in line with that of a former 1980’s kid actor turned evangelist, I can’t imagine anyone not being completely engrossed by ‘Inherit The Wind.’
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Twilight Time presents 'Inherit The Wind' as a limited edition Blu-ray pressing presented in a standard keepcase with an accompanying booklet. The single-layer 25GB disc is stamped with the Blu-rays cover art, and bears logos from studios 20th Century Fox and MGM.
Visually, ‘Inherit The Wind’ has never looked better than in this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, despite the film being over fifty years of age. The movie’s original grain structure is kept intact, while the shades of black and white look solid and crisp. A few minor blemishes appear every once in awhile, which is undoubtedly from the original print source, but does not distract from one's enjoyment and appreciation of this excellent transfer. The beads of sweat dripping from the actors' faces during the heated courtroom scenes are as clear as condensation on a glass of ice water and will make you want to turn up the air conditioning a notch or two. If only all black and white movies looked as good as this...
‘Inherit The Wind’ is presented in its original monophonic soundtrack using DTS-HD Master Audio encoding. The sound is crisp and clear, with no audible hiss or distortion. Deep bass is absent, but the booming voices of the main characters can be heard forcibly in the mid-range. Audiophiles can give their 11.2 channel, Dolby Atmos capable receiver a quiet night off when viewing this film.
An audio option allow viewers to watch the movie with isolated music and effects only, as well as with subtitles for the hard of hearing. The specialilzed, isolated soundtrack is often a standard feature on Twilight Time Blu-rays, and it's something I wish all studios would put into practice.
The original theatrical trailer is presented in standard definition and runs over four minutes long. It is s introduced by the director Stanley Kramer and includes extended clips from the film’s climax and its critical reception. Even better, however, is the eight page illustrated booklet which is inserted into the Blu-ray case. Film historian Julie Kirgo writes a detailed and entertaining essay about 'Inherit The Wind' accompanied by a collage of stills and photos from the movie, as well as a reproduction of a one-sheet poster.
A promotional "MGM 90th Anniversary trailer" is presented in high definition and DTS HDMA 5.1 audio. Strangely, my copy revealed a few digital artifacts here and there, which showed up inconsistenly on different players. Since this feature is more of a commercial than anything else, its presence on this disc is of nominal value. A Twilight Time Catalogue provides still pictures of its various products organized by year of release and availability.
Screen Archives once again delivers a superb, if unadorned presentation of an American film worth preserving on Blu-ray. With a limited release of 3,000 copies, this movie may not sell out as quickly as more modern “cult” films like ‘Body Double’ or ‘Fright Night’ but it should be mandatory viewing for anyone interested in cinematic courtroom dramas. I recall first watching ‘Inherit The Wind’ back in my high school English class, presented by a teacher who expressed his preference for the movie over the play. He screened the movie for us on the technological marvel that was CED. (For those born after 1990, CED stoods for “Capacitance Electronic Disc” and was an ill-fated video playback system which preceded DVDs.) Other than a few skips here and there, the picture was pretty clean and impressive for such an “old” film and the grand impression it left upon me was affirmed after reviewing this Blu-ray disc. The verdict in this case is a high recommendation.