Inherit/1960 review1

from the Newark Evening News - April 22, 1955

by Rowland Field

NEW YORK - Eminently qualified to be counted one of the season's major achievements in sheer satisfaction is "Inherit the wind," the distinguished first play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, just arrived at the National Theater.

Superbly acted and produced, and containing what is probably Paul Muni's finest performance of a brilliant career, this is the factual dramatization of the famous Scopes trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tenn., an event that attained world-wide argumentative interest with Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan as the legal adversaries.

The authors, in their succinct reviewing of the case, generally know as the "monkey trial," have altered the names of the principals, inserted a slender romance motif in the story, and have transferred the seething scene of action to an excitable town called Hillsboro.

Otherwise, their detailing of the spirited measure taken against, and in defense of, the school teacher who advocated Darwin's theory of evolution in his classroom, is quite authentic and fascinating. Scopes, the defendant accused of veritable heresy, is now Bertram Cates, and the wily Darrow, from Chicago, who championed his case in court, is presently Henry Drummond, and played with enormous persuasion by Mr. Muni. The star depicts the famed trial lawyer as a man of quiet cunning and dedicated to the belief that people in the 20's have an obligation for themselves.

Branded an agnostic in his firm conviction that the presentation of the Darwinian origin of the species hypothesis is neither sacrilegious or criminal, the stage story's Darrow prototype encounters showily righteous opposition from the aroused townsfolk and his noted rival, Matthew Harrison Brady (Bryan), in the much-publicized trial. The latter, vigorously played by Ed Begley, is also a canny tactitian, glib and flamboyant in his determinedly pious demeanor in public and in court.

From the moment of his quiet and unacclaimed arrival in Hillsboro, Drummond, the great Midwestern attorney, is acted with persuasive perfection by Mr. Muni as a man of firm but gently reflective beliefs. It is a sensitive full-length portrait of a crusader with confidence in the integrity of people who fanatically oppose his views. And, in a contrasting way, the Begley performance of the colorful Nebraskan, Brady, is equally effective in the trial's highly-trained wits.

Herman Shumlin, who produced the play in association with Margo Jones of Dallas, has stage the vibrant drama with great resource and skill. The story's incisive action is enclosed in a wonderfully-imagined setting by Peter Larkin that includes not only the eventual courtroom but also a superbly-designed panoramic replica of Hillsboro, its storefronts and a typical street scene, in the higher-level background, to give the drama a magical flow through its progressive sequences.

Return to Reviews