DiscoverLaw on FilmInherit the Wind (1960) (Guest Nell Minow) (episode 26)
Inherit the Wind (1960) (Guest Nell Minow) (episode 26)

Inherit the Wind (1960) (Guest Nell Minow) (episode 26)

Update: 2024-05-14


Inherit the Wind (1960) is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial," where a local teacher is prosecuted for teaching about human evolution in public school in violation of state law. The film was directed by Stanley Kramer and is based on a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. It stars Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (patterned after celebrated defense attorney Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as the prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady (patterned after famous three-time presidential candidate and renowned fundamentalist Christian spokesperson, William Jennings Bryan); Dick York as Bertram T. Cates (patterned after high school science teacher John Scopes), and Gene Kelly as reporter E. K. Hornbeck (patterned after H.L. Mencken). Fans of the TV series M*A*S*H  will also enjoy seeing Harry Morgan as the trial judge. The film not only provides a glimpse into the role of religion in public life in American in the 1920s; it also contains important messages about conformism and freedom of thought directed at the McCarthyism of its own era—messages that continue to reverberate today. My guest to talk about Inherit the Wind is film critic Nell Minow (bio  here).


0.00     Introduction
4:52      The era of the Scopes “monkey trial”
8:34      The Scopes trial as a “test” case
12:25   The decision to exclude evidence of evolution
18:40   The later theory of “intelligent design”
20:30   Clarence Darrow’s classic cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan
23:27    Miracle on 34th Street and how courts resolve disputes about faith
24:40   The film as a response to the McCarthy era
26:14   The verdict and aftermath
30:10   The power and methods of the religious right today
34:22   The impact of Inherit the Wind and other “issue movies”
37:06   The film’s continuing relevance

Further reading:

Austerlitz, Saul, "Rethinking Stanley Kramer: How a message-movie humanist became an auteurist punching bag," Moving Image Source (Aug. 25, 2010)

Farrell, John F., Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned (2011)

Minow, Nell, “‘An Idea Is a Greater Monument Than a Cathedral’: Deciding How We Know What We Know in ‘Inherit the Wind,’” 30 U. San Fran. L. Rev. 1225 (1996)

National Center for Science Education, “Ten Major Court Cases about Evolution and Creationism” (June 6, 2016)

Sprague de Camp, Lyon, The Great Monkey Trial (1968)

Uelman, Gerald F., “The Trial as Circus: ‘Inherit the Wind,’” 30 U. San Fran. L. Rev. 1221 (1996)

Law on Film is created and produced by Jonathan Hafetz. Jonathan is a professor at Seton Hall Law School. He has written many books and articles about the law. He has litigated important cases to protect civil liberties and human rights while working at the ACLU and other organizations. Jonathan is a huge film buff and has been watching, studying, and talking about movies for as long as he can remember.
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Inherit the Wind (1960) (Guest Nell Minow) (episode 26)

Inherit the Wind (1960) (Guest Nell Minow) (episode 26)

Jonathan Hafetz