Jump to content

Inherit the Wind (1960 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Inherit the Wind
Directed byStanley Kramer
Screenplay by
Based on
Produced byStanley Kramer
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byFrederic Knudtson
Music byErnest Gold
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • June 25, 1960 (1960-06-25) (Berlin Film Festival)
  • July 21, 1960 (1960-07-21) (Dayton, Tennessee)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[2][3]
Box office$2 million (worldwide)[3]

Inherit the Wind is a 1960 American drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and based on the 1955 play of the same name written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. It stars Spencer Tracy as lawyer Henry Drummond and Fredric March as his friend and rival Matthew Harrison Brady. It also features Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Noah Beery Jr., Florence Eldridge, Jimmy Boyd and Gordon Polk.

The script was adapted by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith.[4] Kramer was commended for bringing in Young, as the latter was blacklisted and forced to use the pseudonym Nathan E. Douglas.

Inherit the Wind is a parable that fictionalizes the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial as a means to discuss McCarthyism.[5] Written in response to the chilling effect of the McCarthy era investigations on intellectual discourse, the film (like the play) is critical of creationism.

A television remake of the film which starred Melvyn Douglas and Ed Begley was broadcast in 1965. Another television remake that starred Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas aired in 1988. It was remade for television again in 1999, co-starring Jack Lemmon as Drummond and George C. Scott as Brady.


In the 1920s, in the town of Hillsboro in an unknown state, a female voice sings "Old-time Religion" as schoolteacher Bertram Cates is arrested for violating state law by conducting a lesson on Charles Darwin's Descent of Man. The event makes headlines around the world. Matthew Brady, statesman, three-time presidential candidate and Biblical scholar, volunteers to assist Prosecutor Tom Davenport.

A huge parade welcomes Brady, who asks Rev. Jeremiah Brown to stand beside him as he addresses the crowd. Witty and cynical E.K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald, an influential newspaperman, seizes the opportunity to announce that Cates' defense attorney will be the equally well-known Henry Drummond, one of America's most controversial legal minds and a notorious agnostic.

Tourists begin to flood the town. Hornbeck welcomes Drummond and takes him on a tour of the circus Hillsboro has become. Meanwhile, in the courtroom, Judge Coffey deals with reporters, Hornbeck and photographers. Later, at the hotel Brady, his wife Sarah, and Drummond reminisce, regretting the loss of the close friendship he once had with the Bradys. That night, Rev. Brown rallies the townspeople, calling down God's vengeance. When his daughter Rachel, who is engaged to Cates, protests, he condemns her. Brady admonishes Brown by quoting Proverbs 11:29: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind", and sends the crowd home.

Taking advantage of her confiding to him and Sarah, Brady calls Rachel to the stand, forcing her to tell how Cates left the church when her father declared that a child who drowned was not worthy of heaven because he was not baptized. He browbeats Rachel until Sarah cries out, "Matt!", and Brady seems to come to himself. Cates tells Drummond not to cross-examine Rachel.

Drummond has six scientists as witnesses, but the prosecution successfully objects. In an impassioned speech, Drummond paints a grim picture of the consequences of allowing a wicked law to prevail and asks to withdraw from the case. The judge orders him to show cause the next morning for why he should not be held in contempt. John Stebbins, the father of the boy who drowned, offers his farm as collateral for Drummond's bail.

That night, the crowds march with a burning effigy singing that Cates should be killed. When Drummond tells Hornbeck he needs a miracle, Hornbeck tosses him a Bible, exclaiming, "Here's a bagful!". Drummond clasps the Bible to his chest, beaming.

In court, he calls Brady as a witness. Brady welcomes this challenge, but becomes increasingly flustered by Drummond's questions, until he is forced to confess that some Biblical passages cannot be interpreted literally. He loses control, and court is adjourned. In their hotel room, Brady weeps on Sarah's shoulder.

WGN Radio is in court to announce the verdict, which is "guilty". Lacking a precedent, the judge fines Cates only $100. Brady tries to enter a speech into the record, but Drummond successfully moves that the court be adjourned. Brady begins his speech, but in the chaos, few pay attention. He becomes increasingly agitated, and after stating, "Faith of our fathers… we shall be true to thee…'til death", he collapses and dies.

In the courtroom, Hornbeck and Drummond are alone. For the obituary, Hornbeck asks what Brady said to Rev. Brown, to which Drummond cites chapter and verse. Hornbeck marvels at how Drummond can call himself an agnostic in spite of this. Drummond accuses Hornbeck of being a heartless cynic, a lonely man who will be buried alone, yet Hornbeck states that Drummond will be there, as he leaves.

Drummond picks up the Bible and Darwin's book in either hand, balancing them as the voice from the beginning sings, "Mine eyes have seen the glory…". Drummond slams the books together, and the camera focuses on his face as he walks out with them under his arm.

Spencer Tracy, Harry Morgan, and Fredric March during the questioning of Brady by Drummond
The film's trailer


Uncredited roles include Richard Deacon, George Dunn, Snub Pollard, Addison Richards, Harry Tenbrook, Will Wright.[citation needed] Actress and singer Leslie Uggams sings both the opening and closing songs a cappella.[citation needed]

Kramer offered the role of Henry Drummond to Spencer Tracy, who initially turned it down. Kramer then sought March, Kelly, and Eldridge as co-stars, and Tracy eventually agreed to make the film. However, none of the other co-stars had been signed at the time; Tracy was the first. Once Tracy signed on, the others signed too.[6]



Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, which took place between July 10 and July 21, 1925, and resulted in John T. Scopes's conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law. The characters of Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Scopes, and H. L. Mencken, respectively. However, Lee and Lawrence state in a note at the opening of the play on which the film is based that it is not meant to be a historical account,[7] and many events were substantially altered or invented.[8][9][10] For instance, the characters of the preacher and his daughter were fictional, the townspeople were not hostile towards those who had come to Dayton for the trial, and Bryan offered to pay Scopes' fine if he was convicted. Bryan died shortly after the trial's conclusion. He died in his sleep five days later, on July 26, 1925, at the age of 65.[9][10]

Political commentator Steve Benen said the following about the drama's inaccuracies: "Scopes issued no plea for empathy, there was no fiancee and the real Scopes was never arrested. In a 1996 interview, Lawrence stated that the play's purpose was to criticize McCarthyism and defend intellectual freedom. According to Lawrence, "we used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control ... It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."[5]

Adaptation changes[edit]

The film includes events from the actual Scopes trial, such as Darrow's citation for contempt of court when he denounced the court by stating that it was prejudiced and his subsequent act of contrition and his request that the charge be dropped. Both events occurred the next day.[11]

Historical inaccuracies[edit]

In the play, Brady is a more extreme Christian fundamentalist than Bryan was. According to historian Ronald Numbers, author of The Creationists, Bryan should be considered a day-age creationist.[12]

Because the judge ruled that scientific evidence was inadmissible, a ruling which the movie depicts, Darrow called Bryan as his only witness and then he attempted to humiliate Bryan by asking him to interpret Scripture. When Darrow, in his closing remarks, called upon the jury to find Scopes guilty so he could appeal the verdict, Bryan was prevented from delivering his summation. The guilty verdict was overturned two years later.[13][14] Bryan suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep five days after the trial ended.[15]


The film had its world premiere at the 10th Berlin International Film Festival on June 25, 1960.[1] Its U.S. premiere was in Dayton, Tennessee on July 21, 1960.[1][where?]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $2 million ($20,000,000 in 2022) worldwide and recorded a loss of $1.7 million ($17,500,000 in 2022)[3]

Critical reaction[edit]

Harry Morgan as the judge, Spencer Tracy as Drummond and Fredric March as Brady
Gene Kelly as Hornbeck
Stanley Kramer receives an award at the 1960 Berlin Film Festival for Inherit the Wind.

Thomas M. Pryor of Variety described it as "a rousing and fascinating motion picture ... roles of Tracy and March equal Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan who collided on evolution ... a good measure of the film's surface bite is contributed by Gene Kelly as a cynical Baltimore reporter (patterned after Henry L. Mencken) whose paper comes to the aid of the younger teacher played by Dick York. Kelly demonstrates again that even without dancing shoes he knows his way on the screen."[16] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the performances of Tracy and March, and further praised Kramer for displaying "not only a graphic fleshing of his theme but he also has got one of the most brilliant and engrossing displays of acting ever witnessed on the screen."[17] Harrison's Reports praised the cast as "superb", but cautioned that "it will be difficult to sell the average movie-goer unless the limited romantic sequences are exaggerated. It is principally a wordy, philosophical courtroom drama, splendidly produced. Direction is top-notch; photography, excellent..."[18]

In 2006, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film four stars, referring to it as "a film that rebukes the past when it might also have feared the future".[19] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 93% approval rating, based on 27 reviews with an average rating of 8.1/10.[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1960 Berlin International Film Festival[21] Golden Bear Stanley Kramer Nominated
Best Actor Fredric March Won
Best Feature Film Suitable for Young People Stanley Kramer Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Inherit the Wind Won
1961 Academy Awards[22] Best Actor Spencer Tracy Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Nedrick Young, Harold Jacob Smith Nominated
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Ernest Laszlo Nominated
Best Film Editing Frederic Knudtson Nominated
BAFTA[23] Best Film from Any Source Stanley Kramer Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Fredric March Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Spencer Tracy Nominated
Golden Globes[24] Best Motion Picture – Drama Stanley Kramer Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Spencer Tracy Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Inherit the Wind at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  2. ^ Curtis, James (2011). Spencer Tracy: A Biography. Alfred Knopf. p. 769. ISBN 978-0-307-26289-9.
  3. ^ a b c Balio, Tino (1987). United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-299-11440-4.
  4. ^ "Inherit the Wind Comes to Hollywood". University of Virginia. Archived from the original on December 8, 2009. Retrieved May 3, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Blankenship, Bill (March 2, 2001). "Inherit the controversy". The Topeka Capital-Journal. Archived from the original on November 13, 2014. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  6. ^ Osborne, Robert (January 2010). "Bob Newhart". TCM Programmer. Season 7. Episode 1. Turner Classic Movies.
  7. ^ "Inherit the Wind: The Playwrights' Note". Archived from the original on October 23, 2019. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  8. ^ "The Scopes Trial vs. 'Inherit the Wind'". Beliefnet. December 1999. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  9. ^ a b "Inherit the Wind". Drama for Students. January 1, 1998. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Riley, Karen L.; Brown, Jennifer A.; Braswell, Ray (January 1, 2007). "Historical Truth and Film: Inherit the Wind as an Appraisal of the American Teacher". American Educational History Journal. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  11. ^ "Transcript of Scopes Trial - Sixth Day's Proceeding - Friday July 1925" (PDF). Clarence Darrow Digital Collection. University of Minnesota. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 22, 2021. Retrieved April 25, 2021.
  12. ^ Mathisen, James A.; Numbers, Ronald L.; Boyer, Paul (1994). "The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism". Sociology of Religion. 55 (1): 95. doi:10.2307/3712184. ISSN 1069-4404. JSTOR 3712184.
  13. ^ "Today in History: The Scopes Trial Begins". History in Orbit. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  14. ^ Scopes v. State, 289 S.W. 363 (Tenn. 1927).
  15. ^ Maier, Simon. "4". Inspire!: Insights and lessons from 100 of the greatest speeches from film and theatre. London: Marshall Cavendish Business. OCLC 798914879.
  16. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (July 6, 1960). "Film Reviews: Inherit the Wind". Variety. p. 6. Retrieved December 4, 2020 – via Internet Archive.
  17. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 13, 1960). "Screen: Triumphant Version of 'Inherit the Wind'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 3, 2020. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  18. ^ "'Inherit the Wind' with Spencer Tracy, Fredic March, Gene Kelly and Dick York". Harrison's Reports. July 9, 1960. p. 110. Retrieved December 4, 2020 – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 28, 2006). "Inherit the Wind movie review (1960)". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on July 8, 2014. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  20. ^ "Inherit the Wind (1960)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on December 12, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  21. ^ "Berlinale: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Archived from the original on October 15, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  22. ^ "The 33rd Academy Awards (1961) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on October 15, 2015. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  23. ^ "Film in 1961". BAFTA. Archived from the original on November 10, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  24. ^ "Inherit the Wind". Golden Globes. Archived from the original on November 10, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.

External links[edit]