Inherit the Wind Comes to Hollywood - 1960
from United Artists 1960 film(17)
A Search for Consensus
When Inherit the Wind reached Hollywood in 1960, only five years after the
play's beginning on Broadway, the social issues of the time had changed
drastically, altering the need for Inherit. By 1960, the Civil Rights
Movement was gearing up for its prime years, McCarthyism had ended, and the
country was about to welcome of new president - soon-to-be-elected John F.
Kennedy. Though the Cold War had not waned, the general anxiety had
decreased some. On a more local front, the issue of the anti-evolution law
seemed fairly dormant. In that year, the New York Times reported less than
four articles which mentioned the Scopes Trial. The first addressed the
issue of a Seventh-Day Adventist science professor who warned of the
dangers of teaching evolution to students (18). The second of the two
longer articles, however, suggested that Inherit still had a place in the
Dayton - 35 years later
In July of 1960, Dayton, Tennessee, home of the 1925 Scopes Trial, declared
July 21, Scopes Trial Day. Just as the town had seized on the trial as a
commercial boon to Dayton, it now sought to revive the legacy, thus
bringing tourism to Dayton. Where signs proclaiming "Read Your Bible" had
once flown, now, thirty-five years later, a banner reading "Welcome to
Dayton, Scopes Trial Day July 21," now crossed the main street (19). But despite this change in mottoes, the town had changed very little, and the
courthouse stood untouched. For the people of Dayton, the trial still lived
not so much as a cultural conflict but as a publicity event which graced
this small forgotten town.
A Natural Progression
Despite this revival of Scopes in Dayton, the Inherit the Wind which
reached movie theaters in October of 1960 rose less from social and
cultural concerns than from Hollywood's natural tendency to acquire
successful stage plays. The forces at work in the 1960 film, therefore, are
less cultural and social than artistic and economic. Film producers know
what appeals to the American movie audience, and the significance of the
intellectual debate of the Scopes trial may have been lost on many
moviegoers. Hollywood's version of Inherit became a quite different one
than Lawrence and Lee had first penned. Although the film was an
entertaining and skillful drama, many of the dichotomies which Lawrence and
Lee set up to distinguish between cultural views became distorted in the
The Hollywood Touch
The cast of the United Artists 1960 version of Inherit the Wind included
director and producer Stanley Kramer and screenplay writers Nathan E.
Douglas and Harold Jacob Smith. Once again, a star-studded cast stepped into the characters' shoes with Spencer Tracy as Drummond, Frederic March as Brady and Gene Kelly as Hornbeck.New York Times Review
As the reviewer suggests, the changes in the film version of Inherit shift the focus of the plot. In the most noticeable twist, the budding affection between Rachel Brown and Bertram Cates has materialized into a full-fledged affair with Rachel confessing her love for Bert to he father, Reverend Brown, and the two planning their marriage. By thrusting this romance to the forefront, the film subverts some of the issues which the play had addressed. For one, in the play, as in the trial, Bertram Cates was a minor character. He was the case study of the anti-evolution law, but he was not the center of attention he becomes in the film.
Although economics was an important driving force in the actual Scopes trial, Lawrence and Lee left much of this out of their narrative, focusing on the trial as a moral and intellectual issue. Douglas and Smith, however return to the trial for some of their inspiration, beginning the film with the Hillsboro business leaders and politicians planning a great courtroom show. They debate the very issues the Dayton leaders had discussed over soda and ice cream 35 years prior. The film, however, seems overly conscious of the conflict which Lawrence and Lee were exploring and pushes different themes together. The leaders, for example, pray for an economic windfall with the trial, thus subverting the more spiritual purpose of religion. The business leaders refer to the more religious community members as the fundamentalists - a word never used in Lawrence's and Lee's play. They are quite conscious of the forces within the community which they manipulate into the two sides of the trial. The conflict here, therefore, seems too staged to reflect the deep cultural beliefs of the town.
Moving Forward in a Backward Town
The clear lines which Lawrence and Lee draw in Inherit the Wind between modern and antiquated, industrialized and out of date, blur throughout the film. The first image of the film is not the deserted town square, but the clock above the courthouse. This is not the sleepy town of Dayton. Instead, it is a town in which the future is here, ticking away. The images suggest that the town of Hillsboro is not as far from civilization as one would expect. Brady enters the town in a care and drives in the parade, and there is no train passing through the town and no Ladies Aid group preparing a picnic lunch. Other signs of civilization creep into the film unexpectedly such as the electric fans in the courtroom and the official-looking uniformed police officers standing guard during the trial. Complicating this updated look at Hillsboro, however, are subtle slurs from Brady against the North, which was stereotypically thought to be the more industrialized region of the country. Brady cries during the trial "I have seen their cities" and their darkness. The celebration of the Southern town seems to be a renunciation, in part, of the regional bias within the play. It is a healing gesture toward the South, proving that the South is not entirely backward.
Enemies or Friends
Although the Drummond and Brady of Lawrence's and Lee's creation were not the best of friends, there is nostalgia throughout the play of some camaraderie which different beliefs ultimately tore apart. In the 1960 film, however, there is a startling relationship between Brady and Drummond, which is cooperative, respectful and warm. Even more notable is the similarity in their beliefs. The two great opponents of the monkey trial sit on a Hillsboro porch and discuss religion as if there were no legal battle looming between them. The film's version of Brady makes him much less a raging fundamentalist than a speaker for the people. In a moment of candor, Brady tells Drummond:
These are simple people, Henry ... poor people. They work hard and they need to believe in something beautiful. Seeking for something more perfect than what they have.
Although Brady's explanation for hope is touching, where is the fervent religious orator of Inherit the Wind? In his place is a man who sounds almost like Drummond himself at the end of the play. Neither professes the irrefutability of religion, but both ask what harm is there in people believing. The film carries this idea even further when Sarah Brady speaks to Rachel about her faith in her husband. There is no mention of God, only her belief in another human being and his right to be human.
You see my husband as a saint and so he must be right in everything he says and does; and then you see him as a devil and so everything he says and does must be wrong ... My husband's neither a saint nor a devil. He's just a human being and he makes mistakes ... What do you stand for? I believe in my husband. What do you believe in?
Transforming Inherit the Wind
Kramer's version of Inherit, therefore, became an affirmation of the worth of all people, modernist or fundamentalist, orthodox and progressive. Even the final scene is an attempt to downplay this cultural conflict and look for some consensus. As Drummond walk out of the courtroom, with the Bible and Darwin side by side in his briefcase, an old religious hymn begins to play. As "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" echoes throughout the courtroom, this atheist evolutionist, defender of the modernist viewpoint, seems more religious than ever.