Inherit the Wind (1960 film)

Inherit the Wind
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Written by Jerome Lawrence (play)
Robert E. Lee (play)
Nedrick Young
Harold Jacob Smith
Starring Spencer Tracy
Fredric March
Gene Kelly
Dick York
Donna Anderson
Harry Morgan
Music by Ernest Gold
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo, ASC
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • July 7, 1960 (1960-07-07)

(World Premiere, London)

Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1][2]
Box office $2,000,000 (worldwide)[2]

Inherit the Wind is a 1960 Hollywood film adaptation of the 1955 play of the same name, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, directed by Stanley Kramer.

It stars Spencer Tracy as lawyer Henry Drummond and Fredric March as his friend and rival Matthew Harrison Brady, also featuring Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Noah Beery, Jr., Florence Eldridge, and Jimmy Boyd.

The script was adapted by Nedrick Young (originally as Nathan E. Douglas) and Harold Jacob Smith.[3] Stanley Kramer was commended for bringing in writer Nedrick Young, as the latter was blacklisted. Inherit the Wind is a parable that fictionalizes the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial as a means to discuss McCarthyism.[4] Written in response to the chilling effect of the McCarthy era investigations on intellectual discourse, the play (and film) are critical of creationism.

The film had its World Premiere at the Astoria Theatre in London's West End on July 7, 1960.[5]

A television remake of the film was released in 1965. Another television remake starring Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas aired in 1988. It was once again remade for TV in 1999, co-starring Jack Lemmon as Drummond and George C. Scott as Brady.


Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, which 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,[6] and many events were substantially altered or invented.[7][8][9] For instance, the characters of the preacher and his daughter were fictional, the townspeople weren't hostile towards those who had come to Dayton for the trial, and Bryan offered to pay Scopes' fine if he was convicted. Bryan did die shortly after the trial's conclusion, but his death occurred five days later in his sleep.[8][9] Political commentator Steve Benen said of the drama's inaccuracies: "Scopes issued no plea for empathy, there was no fiancee and the real Scopes was never arrested. Lawrence explained in a 1996 interview 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."[4]


In a small Southern town, a school teacher, Bertram Cates, is about to stand trial. His offense: violating a state law by introducing to his students the concept that man descended from the apes, a theory of the naturalist Charles Darwin. Cates is vigorously denounced by town leaders such as the Rev. Jeremiah Brown.

The town is excited because appearing on behalf of the prosecution will be the famous Matthew Harrison Brady, a noted statesman and 3-time presidential candidate. A staunch foe of Darwinism and a Biblical scholar, Brady will sit beside the prosecuting attorney, Tom Davenport, in the courtroom of Judge Coffey to teach the naive teacher Cates the error of his ways.

Spencer Tracy, Harry Morgan, and Fredric March during the questioning of Brady by Drummond

A surprise is in store for Brady, however. The teacher's defense is to be handled by the equally well-known Henry Drummond, one of America's most controversial legal minds and a long-standing acquaintance and adversary of Brady. An influential newspaperman, E.K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald, has personally seen to it that Drummond will come to town to represent the teacher in this case, and that his newspaper and a radio network will provide nationwide coverage of what began as a minor legal matter.

Rev. Brown rails against the defendant publicly, rallying the townspeople against Cates and his godless attorney. The preacher's daughter Rachel is conflicted because Cates is the love of her life and they are engaged to be married.

The judge clearly admires Brady, even addressing him as "Colonel" in court. Drummond objects to this, so, as a compromise, the mayor reluctantly makes him a "temporary" colonel just for these proceedings. But each time Drummond attempts to call a scientist or authority figure to discuss Darwin's theories, the judge sustains the prosecution's objections and forbids such opinions to be heard. Drummond becomes frustrated and feels the case has already been decided. When he states his mind to the court and asked to withdraw from the case, the judge (played by Harry Morgan) tells Drummond to show cause the next morning why he should not be held in contempt of the court. The judge sets bail at $2000, to which Drummond remarks, "Why not make it $4000?", to which the judge agrees. At the end of the scene, one person in the courtroom offers his farm as collateral toward the bail. The person is John Stebbins, whose young son was a friend and protege of teacher Cates and ended up drowning after developing a cramp while swimming. Rachel's father, the Reverend Brown, had said the child was damned to hell because he had not been baptized. This, in turn, caused Cates' abandonment of the church as he felt it was not fair that a child could not enter Heaven due to an action that was beyond his control and that was not his own.

Later that night near the hotel, the mocking crowds, singing "We'll hang Bert Cates/We'll hang Henry Drummond" (to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), go by the jailroom and then to the hotel where Drummond is staying. Drummond is still trying to decide how to accomplish his defense with all his witnesses denied by the court and states what he needs is a miracle. Hornbeck throws him a Bible from Brady stating there are plenty in that. As Hornbeck pours some drinks and turns to Drummond lying on the bed, he stops and is surprised by Drummond holding the Bible on his chest and smiling.

His hands tied in every other way, Drummond calls Brady himself to the witness stand. Brady's confidence in his Biblical knowledge is so great that he welcomes this challenge, but he becomes flustered under Drummond's cross-examination, unable to explain certain apparent contradictions, until he is forced to confess that at least some Biblical passages cannot be interpreted literally, such as the length of days in Genesis with the sun created on the 4th day or the origin of Cain's wife met east of Eden. With that, Drummond hammers home his point  that Cates, like any other man, demands the right to think for himself and those citing divine support as a rationale to silence him are wrong.

Cates is ultimately found guilty, but because Drummond has made his case so convincingly with the trial becoming a political embarrassment, the judge sees fit to do no more than make him pay a small fine of $100. Brady is furious at this small amount and tries to enter a lengthy speech into the record, but Drummond persuades the judge to disallow it since the trial has concluded. As court is adjourned, Brady tries to give his speech but most ignore him outside of his wife and his opponents who are concerned seeing him become hysterical. During this, he suffers from a "busted belly", collapses and dies in the courtroom.

Later, after the crowd has cleared out, Hornbeck is talking with Drummond and wants to use the Bible quotation from a religious rally held by Reverend Brown and in which Brady had quoted the "inherit the wind" verse because Brown was about to damn his own daughter, but cannot remember it. Drummond, without looking up, quotes the full verse verbatim, which shocks Hornbeck, who states, "Well, we're growing an odd crop of agnostics this year!". He and Drummond argue over Brady's legacy, Drummond accuses Hornbeck of being a heartless cynic, and Hornbeck walks out, leaving Drummond alone in the courtroom to pack. Drummond picks up the Bible and Darwin's book (On the Origin of Species), balancing them in his hands as if he were a scale. Then he puts the two together with a hard thud and walks out with them side by side in his right hand.

The final scene shows Drummond walking out of the court room alone, holding a Bible and Charles Darwin's A Theory of Evolution, with the song "Battle Hymn of the Republic" being sung in the background.


Actress and singer Leslie Uggams sings both the opening and closing songs by herself a cappella.

Kramer offered the role of Henry Drummond to Spencer Tracy, who turned it down. Kramer then enlisted March, Eldridge, and Kelly as co-stars, and Tracy eventually signed. However, none of the co-stars had been signed at the time; Tracy was the first. Once Tracy signed to do the part, the others signed, also.[11]

Adaptation changes

The film includes events from the actual Scopes trial, such as when Darrow was cited for contempt of court when he denounced his perception of prejudice by the court and his subsequent act of contrition the next day to have the charge dropped. The film also expands on the relationship of Drummond and Brady, particularly when the two opponents have a respectful private conversation in rocking chairs, in which they explain their positions in the trial. Furthermore, the film has a sequence occurring on the night after the court recessed and Cates and Drummond are harassed by a mob even as the lawyer is inspired how to argue his case the next day.

Historical Inaccuracies

The film engages in literary license with the facts and should not be relied upon as a historical document. For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher. William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a "busted belly" while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom. The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that actually happened in Dayton, Tennessee during the actual trial.[12]


The film grossed $2 million worldwide and recorded a loss of $1.7 million.[2]

Critical reception

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


The film opened to a storm of praise with Kramer and company applauded for capturing the essence of the Scopes trial. Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 90% rating with 19 fresh and 2 rotten reviews.[13] Roger Ebert refers to it as "a film that rebukes the past when it might also have feared the future."[14] Variety described the film 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."[15] The movie was lauded by The New York Times.[16]

Awards and honors

Academy Awards Inherit the Wind was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Award Result Nominee
Best Actor Nominated Spencer Tracy
Winner was Burt Lancaster - Elmer Gantry
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Nominated Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith
Winner was Richard Brooks - Elmer Gantry
Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) Nominated Ernest Laszlo
Winner was Freddie Francis - Sons and Lovers
Best Film Editing Nominated Frederic Knudtson
Winner was Daniel Mandell - The Apartment


Berlin International Film Festival

Golden Globes

Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. James Curtis, Spencer Tracy: A Biography, Alfred Knopf, 2011 p769
  2. 1 2 3 Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 26
  3. "Inherit the Wind Comes to Hollywood - 1960".
  4. 1 2 BILL BLANKENSHIPThe Capital-Journal (2001-03-02). "Inherit the controversy". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  5. The Times Online, archive 7 July 1960, page 2.
  6. Inherit the Wind: The Playwrights' Note
  8. 1 2 "Inherit the Wind, Drama for Students". Gale Group. 1 January 1998. Retrieved 31 August 2012.   via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  9. 1 2 Riley, Karen L.; Brown, Jennifer A.; Braswell, Ray (1 January 2007). "Historical Truth and Film: Inherit the Wind as an Appraisal of the American Teacher". American Educational History Journal. Retrieved 31 August 2012.   via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  10. Full cast and credits at Internet Movie Database
  11. Robert Osborn, TCM Network, broadcast February 3, 2010
  13. "Inherit the Wind". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  14. Ebert, Roger (2006-01-28). "Roger Ebert Review". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  15. "Variety review". 1959-12-31. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  16. Crowther, Bosley (1960-10-13). "Movie Review - Inherit the Wind - INHERIT THE WIND -". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  17. "Berlinale: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  18. IMDB list of awards
  19. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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