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Inherit The Wind

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    Horace Cordier
    Senior Member

  • Inherit The Wind



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: December 9th, 2014.
    Director: Stanley Kramer
    Cast: Harry Morgan, Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Dick York, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins
    Year: 1960
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Too much monkey business.

    Watching INHERIT THE WIND late in 2014 comes with some horrifying realizations. Here at RSP! we really do try to stay apolitical but let's face it. There is a large and vocal movement - especially in the USA - that trumpets an anti-intellectual and anti-science viewpoint. Silly Christian agitprop like GOD'S NOT DEAD and LEFT BEHIND (now on its second go-round with Nic Cage as a reboot) has gone almost mainstream. Hell, even risible but chucklesome trash like Kirk Cameron's SAVING CHRISTMAS makes headlines even if it can't sell three tickets at full price.

    When Stanley Kramer made INHERIT THE WIND in 1960 he was smack in the middle of a red hot streak. His two previous pictures - THE DEFIANT ONES and ON THE BEACH - were hard hitting "message" movies that resonated with both critics and the paying public. JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG was just around the corner. But it is INHERIT THE WIND that slams the Intellect most forcefully today. Darwin's theory of evolution is still quite the sticky wicket for many. And when the great actor Frederic March proudly proclaims "I believe in the bible!" in that fabled town of Hillsboro in the movie, he could just as well be any number of prominent fundamentalists nowadays in the news. Or even the guy running the Christian theme park with tableaux of cavemen and dinosaurs running around together.

    Schoolteacher Bertram T Cates (Dick York) has been arrested under an obscure Tennessee law that forbids the teaching of Darwin's theory (since it contradicts the bible). At first the townsfolk are nervous about becoming a laughingstock of northern intellectuals as the upcoming trial starts getting national press attention. But then three time presidential nominee and ardent Christian Mathew Harrison Brady enters the picture. He will happily prosecute the case. God demands a defender and he's just the man to do it. Local firebrand preacher the Reverend Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins) and the rest of Hillsboro are thrilled. But then a gadfly enters the scene. Reporter E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), an atheist cynic modeled on satirist H.L. Mencken, has come to cover the trial for his newspaper and he has an announcement. His paper will be bringing in, and paying for, the services of legendary lawyer and noted humanist Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy). And so commences a courtroom showdown. The entire film relies on the power of language to convey ideas and is staged primarily as a series of verbal confrontations between the sincere bluster of Brady and Drummond's shambling but deadly and acerbic wit and intellect.

    Based on the play of the same name and the historical Scopes "monkey" trial, Kramer's film added and subtracted a few elements in the name of dramatic license. As Twilight Time's resident film scholar and liner notes writer Julie Kirgo points out in this disc's booklet, Drummond's goal (and it would seem Kramer's by proxy) isn't to debunk the bible - it is to defend the right of any man to question. Ban this and then it's ok to ban that. Man's forward motion intellectually and morally is through debate and the free exchange of ideas. Hornbeck's bitter godlessness isn't exalted as a virtue either. In fact, the film's coda explicitly criticizes him.

    Considering how badly the deck is stacked against him Drummond does a remarkable job of countering Brady's rhetoric. Hamstrung regularly by an antagonistic judge (Dragnet's Harry Morgan in a nice understated turn) and a bible thumping populace, Drummond just keeps hammering home the facts. He particularly embarrasses Brady in an amusing exchange on the exact age of planet earth and delivers truly stirring defenses of free speech (it is in these parts that the shadow of McCarthyism are most obviously seen). Brady may claim to love the holy book and his fellow man. But it is Drummond who truly embraces the plurality of humankind.

    Much like Kramer's other towering achievement JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, this courtroom drama rises and falls on the strength of its cast. And this one certainly rises high. Tracy and March may have been in the twilight of their careers but they were rarely more forceful. March, quite overweight and often seen eating huge meals in the film nevertheless remains a folksy and likable figure - not a gluttonous prig. He's actually fairly tragic. As Drummond (a personal friend of the man despite their differences) says of him, he was a great man who stopped moving forward. Brady is also capable of great kindness. After brutally hammering a witness named Rachel (Donna Anderson) who is Cate's girlfriend on the stand - he offers her comfort when she shows up at his hotel to confront him. And Drummond, though never particularly chummy with the local populace, refuses to treat them with disdain either. Drummond can walk the folksy walk too - he certainly dresses the part in his snappy suspenders and his avoidance of big city manners marks him as a man of the people as well, just not a narrow-minded one. Kelly's Hornbeck is fairly unpleasant but not without some biting commentary and he's beautifully played. Kelly was a string dramatic actor as well as a top tier song and dance man. And Akins walks the fine line between characterization and caricature with his preacher. A role that could have sunk into pure ham never does. And York captures a wide-eyed innocence tempered with an inquisitive mind in his schoolteacher. INHERIT THE WIND is ensemble drama at its very best.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time's 1.66:1 AVC encoded 1080p presentation is another top tier effort for the label. Shadow detail and black levels are crucial quality yardsticks for vintage black and white titles and this release delivers the goods in both areas. Everything looks appropriately filmic, grain is stable and healthy and detail is sharp - especially on facial features and clothing. The film takes place during a sweltering heat wave and if you really want to see how good this transfer is start counting the heads of sweat on various foreheads. There is no DNR or unnatural tampering evident.

    Audio is provided by a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono that sounds perfectly fine. Hisses, distortion and volume fluctuations are nowhere to be heard. Amplitude is perfectly modulated and all dialogue audible. Range may be limited by the source material but you'll certainly never notice anything amiss. This is a solid track.

    Extras are simply two trailers - the film's theatrical and and an MGM 90th anniversary, and an isolated music and effects track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. (a Twilight Time specialty).

    The Final Word:

    As topical today as the morning it was minted, Stanley Kramer's INHERIT THE WIND is a brilliant and thought provoking film. On the surface, it may seem to be about evolution, but it is really about intellectual freedom and the price that society pays when it stifles it. Twilight Time's Blu-ray may be short on extras but it delivers in the crucial areas of audio and video. This one belongs in the library of anyone with an interest in classic films. Buy it.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





















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