Inherit the Wind (1960)





Director:     Stanley Kramer.

Starring:     Spencer Tracy (Clarence Darrow), Fredric March (Matthew Harrison Brady), Gene Kelly (E. K. Hornbeck), Dick York (Bertram T. Cates), Harry Morgan (Judge Mel Coffey), Donna Anderson (Rachel Brown), Elliott Reid (Prosecutor Tom Davenport), Claude Akins (Rev. Jeremiah Brown), Noah Beery, Jr. (John Stebbins), Norman Fell (WGN Radio Technician).

Good film about the famous monkey trial (the 1925 Scopes trial).  Actor Gene Kelly's character is based on that of the infamous sharp-tongued journalist from Baltimore H. L. Mencken.


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

Hillsboro Courthouse, Tennessee.

1925. It's early in the morning in a small town in Tennessee. A man walks from the courthouse to a street intersection where two men, one of them the sheriff, are standing. Now the three of them walk over to the town's minister. The four of them now head for the local school house. They then go to listen what teacher Bertram T. Cates is telling his students.

Bertram employs a chart of the various periods of geological time which he uses during the science section of the class. Also on the chart is the Musculoar Anatomy of the Male Gorilla. He says they are continuing the discussion of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Cates' lesson is interrupted by the arrest of the teacher. He is accused of violating order 31428, volume 37, statute number 31428 of the state code. This make it illegal for any teacher in the public schools to teach any theory that denies the creation of man as taught in the Bible and to teach instead the theory of evolution.

In the Baltimore Herald the headline is "Teacher jailed in test of evolution law". Another paper headline is: "Are we men or monkeys?"

At a meeting of the town council a man gets up to say that the whole country is laughing at the people and town of Hillsboro. He says: "I'm telling you we've gone too far!" Another man says let them all laugh because they are fighting the Lord's battle. He goes on to say that it's much better that a heathen is laughing at him rather than his sons are laughing at the Bible. The town minister agrees with that sentiment.

Tom Davenport is the town's prosecuting attorney. They ask him if there's something he can do about all this? The attorney says he doesn't want to comment on a case that may be coming his way.

The town book keeper says that the danger of people laughing at them is that their school graduates may not be accepted by the nation's colleges and universities. The mayor sees a headline in the Chattanooga Tribune says that the famous American politician Matthew Harrison Brady is offering his services for free to prosecute the Monkey Trial.

With Brady coming, the people will be coming out of the hills to be in town when the trial starts. The mouths of the commercial men start watering at the thought of all that money coming into the town. And it will put Hillsboro on the American map.

Cates is out of his cell and playing cards with the jailer Mort. The jailer says he voted for Brady in 1900 and 1908. He admires the public speaking ability of Brady. The jailer asks who is going to be Cates' lawyer? Cates says the Baltimore Herald is sending someone down to be his lawyer.

Someone knocks on the door, so Mort asks Cates if he wouldn't mind going back to his jail cell for the moment. Mort goes to the door and it turns out to be Ruth, the daughter of the minister and girlfriend of Cates. She asks Mort not to tell her father about her visit. Mort agrees.

Bert and Rachel hug and kiss. She asks him to give in and drop this case. But Burt says he can't do that. He doesn't want to have to lock up his own brain for thinking something that the townspeople don't like. E. K. Hornbeck now comes into courthouse/jail. He says: "So this is where the fate of learning will be decided for the next thousand years. O tempora, o mores (Oh Times! Oh Manners! poem by Poe.)"

Cates says he's been waiting to hear from Hornbeck. Hornbeck gives him the Baltimore Herald to read. After Cates reads it he objects to being portrayed in the article as a martyr. Hornbeck says well Cates may yet be a martyr. Rachel asks Hornbeck to just leave her boyfriend alone. Hornbeck replies that he came to tell "boy Socrates" here that there is no need to drink hemlock. His paper is providing Cates with a lawyer.

Rachel says that Hornbeck always sounds so cynical. Hornbeck agrees. He says: "I'm admired for my detestability."

There is a huge crowd of people in the town of Hillsboro. A band helps welcome Brady to the town. It's a regular parade. One of the placards says: "Down with Darwin!"

The mayor introduces Brady to the large crowd. He tells the people about the man's accomplishments, one of which was to be the secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson. And the governor of Tennessee has confered the honorary title of colonel of the state militia on Brady.

Brady gets up and thanks the people for the colonel title and the warm reception. He asks the Rev. Jeremiah Brown to come up on the podium with him. The reverend comes up. Brady is quite the preacher himself. He says he has to save religion from the irreligion of the people and intellectuals in the big cities. And he wants to make sure the children of the nation are brought up learning about God and the Bible.

Hornbeck objects to the things that Brady has been saying. He introduces himself to Brady and Brady says he knows all about Hornbeck's paper and Hornbeck's irreverent writings. But what Brady doesn't know is that the Baltimore Herald has gotten the famous American attorney Henry Drummond to defend Cates.

The crowd turns nasty and shouts various idea like run Drummond out of Hillsboro on a rail. The ever-positive Brady tells the crowd that they should welcome Drummond. "If the enemy sends its Goliath into battle it magnifies our cause." Drummond is famous and will bring publicity to to what the good Christians are doing to protect the faith.

Rachel comes home and her father starts in on her so that she tells him to stop preaching because she has something to tell him. She says flat out that she's staying with Bert because she loves him. The reverend has always been against Bert thinking that he will never bring anything to his daughter but sin. And it's Bert who is bringing in that atheist Henry Drummond.

Now the reverend goes after his own daughter saying that she has betrayed him as she has betrayed her faith. He even gets down on his knees and prays to God asking Him to give him guidance so that he may save his daughter. Rachel gets so disgusted with him that she just walks out of the room.

When Drummond gets off the bus Hornbeck is right there to welcome him to heavenly Hillsboro. He also says that Drummond will be rooming with him at the hotel. As they walk to the hotel a local farmer tells Drummond to go back to where he came from.

At the Hotel there are a bunch of high schoolers who say they are members of Cates' biology class and like him very much. The spokesperson tells Drummond that he hopes that Drummond will do right by Mr. Cates.

At the hotel Drummond sees Sarah Brady, Brady's wife. They have known each other for a long time. The two warmly receive each other. Brady sees Drummond and gets up immediately to go talk with him. He warmly receives Drummond, but doesn't like seeing Hornbeck. He tells the reporter that he read his article in the paper and it was very biased. Hornbeck replies: "Mr. Brady, it's the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Hornbeck leaves and Brady says: "I don't like that fellow."

When Drummond walks toward the courthouse the crowd boos him. Inside the courthouse they are selecting the last juror. Jesse Dunlap is called up to the stand. The crowd cheers Dunlap.

Brady asks for permission to not wear their coats in the courthouse because it's already 97 degrees inside. Permission granted.

The prosecution says Dunlap is acceptable to them, but Drummond says the man is not acceptable to him. The rejection of a good Christian man without even asking him a single question bothers Brady and he says so in court. So Drummond goes up to the man and asks him how is he? The guy says kind of hot. Drummond says: "Me too. Excused."

The judge keeps referring to Brady as Colonel Brady. Drummond objects to this saying that he doesn't think Brady has a military record. The judge says that they honored Brady with the title the day he arrived in town. The defense lawyer says the title is prejudicial toward his client. So the judge asks him what should they do? Drummond says break the man down to the rank of private. He would have no objection to "Private Brady".

The judge calls the mayor up to the stand and tells him he better think of something to resolve this. Drummond goes up to the two men. The mayor says he appoints Drummond to the position of honorary, temporary colonel in the state militia. That's acceptable to Drummond.

The selection of the twelfth juror is resumed. Both sides accept the next man, who works at the feed store. He says he doesn't have time for religion since he's working at the feed store. And now the judge closes the case until tomorrow morning because of the excessive heat in the courtroom.

The judge makes an announcement of a picnic for the town to pray for justice and guidance. Drummond objects to that. And then he objects to that banner hanging over the entry doors to the court house that says: Read your Bible. The townspeople are shocked that anyone would want such a sign taken down.

Some of the townspeople spit verbal insults at Drummond, Hornbeck and Cates. One man says that the townspeople are going to run Cates out of town.

Rachel is worried and she tells Bert to call the whole thing off now. These outsiders are using Bert as a weapon against his own people. Then she scolds Drummond. Bert now starts regretting he ever got into this situation. Drummond tells him that Bert got into this by his own choice. No one forced him to do this. And Drummond is assuming he did this because of his strong belief in the freedom of speech. He adds that if Cates wants out all he has to do is tell the people of the town that he will think the way the town thinks and never make any trouble for the town again.

Bert gets his faith in freedom back and says he has to stand up and say that this censorship of the ideas of Charles Darwin is just plain wrong. The talk is ended when the jailer tells Bert that he has to take Bert back now.

At dinner Brady pontificates that the way of science is the way of darkness. Eating by himself is lawyer Drummond. When Sarah comes into the dining room Drummond asks her to sit down with him because her husband won't finish with his speechifying for awhile yet. Sarah says she never dreamed that they would be separated by their different ideas.

The reverend gives a sermon to the crowd outdoors. He goes over the story of creation in the Bible. Reverend Brown praises those who believe and damns those who do not. Rachel gets upset and cries out: "No! No, Pa! Don't pray to destroy Bert!"

The cries of Rachel disturbs Brady and he speaks up for her. He tells the reverend that he knows he's just being a bit dramatic, ". . .but it is possible to be overzealous. To destroy that which you hope to save, so that nothing is left but emptiness." Remember what Solomon said: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind." He speaks now to the entire crowd: "My Bible tells us that God forgives his children and we, as children of God, should forgive each other."

Brady tells everyone to go home. They start leaving. The reverend bows his head and goes with them. Sarah tells Rachel that they will take her home. Rachel says she can never go back home again for her father has damned her. Her father damned Bert and the little Stebbins boy. Who is this Stebbins boy? An innocent, little child. Brady says: "God has no wrath for the innocent, my dear."

Brady talks with Drummond out on the front porch of the hotel. He asks his old friend why did he move so far away from him? Drummond suggests that it's possible that Brady moved away from him because Brady chose to stand still and not change.

In court Brady questions one of Drummond's students, Howard, as to what Cates taught his students. So the kid does what he can to explain his understanding of the theory of evolution. Brady then asks the fellow if Cates ever mentioned the word God while expounding his theory of evolution? No.

Drummond gets up and says that thinking is on trial here. A thinking man is on trial. "I think that the right to think is very much on trial here. And it is fearfully in danger in the proceedings of this court room."

Brady's next witness is Rachel Brown. Did Cates leave the church? Yes. Why? "Because of the Stebbins boy." The boy got a cramp while swimming in the river and drowned. Her father then preached that Tommy's soul was damned riding in hellfire. That's when Bert left the church.

Brady pushes a reluctant Rachel to testify against Cates by telling the court what were the views of Bert on religion. Rachel pleads with Brady that she told him these things to him in private and it's not fair to ask her these questions in court. Brady keeps brow-beating the witness until she starts crying. Sarah, sitting in audience, knows her husband is going too far and she screams out to him: "Matt!" From the tone of his wife's voice, he knows he went too far with the young woman. He says she is excused from doing any more testifying.

The prosecution, having made its case to the jury, is now followed by the defense for the accused. Drummond tries to call up expert witnesses on evolution from very prestigious universities. Brady says they do not need to hear from these "agnostic scientists". The judge does not allow any experts to give testimony about evolution. Drummond is not at all happy about this. He gets so annoyed that he says: "And this community is an insult to the world." He now asks the judge for permission to withdraw from the case.

The judge asks him on what grounds is he quitting? He points his finger at the prejudiced courtroom audience and a possible prejudiced judge. Brady gets up in defense of the people and the judge.

Drummond says that fanaticism and ignorance are forever busy. "And soon, your honor, with banners flying and with drums beating, we'll be marching backward! Backward! through the glorious ages of that 16th century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind."

The judge tells Drummond that he hopes he was not referring to the judge himself. Drummond shoots back: "Well, your honor has the right to hope. " So the judge throws Drummond in jail.

The Stebbins father says he will put up his farm for Drummond. The local banker says his bank will honor the offer of the security of his farm. The judge says they can make arrangements with the court clerk.

The good Christians of Hillsboro burn Cates in effigy. Cates watches the demonstration until someone throws a bottle at his window and a piece of glass cuts his eyebrow.

Hornbeck almost berates Drummond for having faith in the human race. Drummond says then what about Bert Cates? The newspaper man fires: "A monkey who tried to fly!" Drummond says he needs a miracle to win the case. Hornbeck grabs the Bible and throws it over to Drummond. And in doing so, Drummond starts thinking of another way to get around the judge to challenge the ideas of the conservative religious people.

In court Drummond says he's sorry to the judge for his heated remarks. The judge is gracious and cancels the contempt citation. And now Drummond withdraws his withdrawal from the case.

So now Drummond calls to the stand Brady as an expert witness on the Holy Bible. Brady gets up and says he will take the stand. Drummond asks Brady if he can quote the work of Darwin like Brady can quote the Bible? Brady says he never read the book and never will. He does not wish to listen to any "pagan hypotheses".

Drummond aks him then how can Brady say that the Bible and Darwin's work can never be reconciled? Now Drummond is going to read him a passage from Darwin's work. The prosecuting attorney gets up and objects to this. He says Drummond is just trying to introduce scientific testimony into the court record. Let Drummond stick completely to the Bible. So Drummond switches to the Bible.

Does Brady believe that everything in the Bible can be accepted as the truth? Absolutely. Well what about Jonah being swallowed by a whale? Could Joshua make the sun stand still? Yes. Why didn't Joshua know that the planets move around the sun and not vice-versa? Brady says because it isn't true.

In the Bible it says that Cain knew his wife. Where did this extra woman come from? Brady doesn't know and doesn't care to inquire about it.

Drummond says progress never comes easily. It always comes with some pain. Darwin has shown us the way humans came to be. The price of that is to abandon the Bible's version of creation.

Brady tells Drummond that the rock that Drummond holds in his hand can not be more than 6,000 years old. He knows this because a Bishop Usher calculated the age by counting up all the begats.

The two men spar like this for a long time. Drummond gets Brady to say that the Lord talks to him. That gives Drummond the grounds to make fun of him. He calls him the "prophet from Nebraska." Brady kind of breaks down defending himself, like Rachel did. He now looks very defeated and many of the people feel that Brady failed to defeat the infidel as he had promised to do. Sarah takes her husband out of there.

Rachel comes over to Brady's hotel room. She speaks with Sarah saying that Brady has to tell Bert that what happened was not her fault. She adds that she wants the entire world to know that Matthew Brady is a fake. Sarah gets so upset that she slaps Rachel's face. She then quickly apologizes to Rachel.

Rachel feels that Brady encouraged her to pour out her heart to him, and then he twisted those words around in order to hurt Bert. She wants to know why he did it? Sarah says she doesn't know. Rachel says he must be an evil man to do what he did. Sarah says no. Sarah says that Rachel sees her husband as a saint and thinks that he must do everything right. Well, her husband is not a saint. But Rachel turns on her husband and says that Brady is a devil. He's not a devil either. "He's just a human being and he makes mistakes."

Brady wakes up and asks what can he do for Rachel? The still disillusioned Rachel says he can't help her. She leaves. Brady asks what happened? He says he didn't mean to hurt the girl. It's just that it's so important to win this challenge. It would be a monument to God Himself.

Now Brady starts going a bit crazy saying he has to work on his speech to make the people understand what he has been trying to say. He gets so excited that he falls into a chair. He's upset because, he says, the people laughed at him.

In the courtroom, Brady is eating his food too fast. At the same time he is going over the notes for his speech. Bert speaks to Rachel and assures her that he loves her. Drummond sees that they are going to broadcast the verdict to Chicago over the radio.

The mayor speaks to the judge and tells him that the influential people in the state wants this monkey trial over as soon as possible. They don't like all these criticisms directed at the state of Tennessee.

The jury finds Bert guilty. Brady is very happy about the jury's decision.

The judge asks the defendant to rise. Has he anything to say? Bert says he was convicted of opposing an unjust law and he will continue his fight.

The decision is to fine Bert $100 dollars. The audience is very angry about this. Brady is really mad and wants a harsher punishment for Bert. Not winning his argument, Brady now wants to read his speech into the court record. Drummond objects to that. The case has been concluded. The judge bangs his gavel to close the case.

Brady tries to get the audience to stay seated, but the people start filing out of the court room. Brady still continues to give his speech. He suddenly collapses.

Brady dies. Hornbeck and Drummond get into a bit of an argument over the character of Brady. Drummond says that was much greatness in the man. Hornbeck objects to this and Drummond says he's getting tired of Hornbeck because what he always writes is just to blow up something good.

Hornbeck says Drummond is guilty of sentimentality in the first degree. He asks: "What is this? Be kind to bigots week? Why should we weep for him? Because he's dead?" He calls Drummond a hypocrite: an atheist who believes in God?

Drummond criticizes Hornbeck for having nothing to believe in. He calls him a "poor slob" who is all alone. No one will go to his funeral. Hornbeck says the lawyer is wrong. Drummond himself will be there ready to defend Hornbeck's right to be lonely. He leaves the courtroom.

Drummond puts on his coat. He picks up the Bible and the book by Darwin. He walks out of the courtroom.



Science is composed of theories (connected, logical explanations if you will) of how the world works.  Given the massive, overwhelming evidence for evolution, if the theory of evolution is not correct, then it is save to say that none of our scientific theories are correct.

It is hard for a scientific person to take anti-evolutionary thinkers seriously (although we still take our anti-evolutionary social sciences seriously -- they refuse to accept the implications of evolution and heredity for the behavior of human beings).  

This was a spectacular trial when it occurred in the 1920s.  Local teacher John Scopes agreed to violate the law so that he could be tried so that in turn the laws against teaching evolution could be declared unconstitutional.  People were gathered all around the court house and the controversy was argued in the streets to some extent, although most of the people were religious fundamentalists who did not "believe" in evolution.

The famous Clarence Darrow made mental mince-meat of pompous William Jennings Bryan (who ran for the presidency for the Democrats 4 different times), who foolishly took up Darrow's challenge to be cross-examined as an expert on the Bible.  Darrow, in the heart of the Bible-belt in Tennessee, of course, lost the case, and still to this day school districts still occasionally decide to ban evolution in the name of conservative religion.

Of course, religious liberals have long reconciled evolution with religion, but there still are many who will never reconcile themselves to the scientific truth.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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