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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Inherit The Wind
Inherit The Wind
MGM // PG // December 11, 2001
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted November 27, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Films almost never seem to be about ideas anymore. A film like 1960's Inherit the Wind would never get made today (unless, of course, it were a remake and headed straight to TV, as has happened twice in the last 15 years). The original Inherit the Wind tells the story of the infamous "Scopes monkey trial", which found John T. Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in a small Tennessee high school. State law prevented teaching anything other than creation as explained in the Bible and Scopes violated the law by using Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" as his text book. The film, while changing the names and some details, explores the issues at stake pretty faithfully and in some detail. The film does have an agenda (it falls squarely on the side of evolution, or rather the freedom to consider evolution) but both sides are given ample screen time.

And that's the key, since the two lawyers battling out the case here are portrayed as monumental figures. The prosecution's case is taken up by Matthew Harrison Brady (Frederic March), a booming three-time presidential candidate with a flair for courtroom prognostication. The defense is handled by Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracey), a curmudgeon whose world-weariness has left him a little cynical, but still able to attack when prompted. Both March and Tracey give fantastic performances. Being that this film is about ideas it is filled with dialog, thick, deep dialog that covers political, spiritual, ethical, and historical ground. The two leads devour the script with fire and rage. Scenes where they square off in the courtroom crackle with intensity. Quiet moments where they recall their long friendship burn with resonance. Inherit the Wind offers two of the finest acting performances of the period.

Other characters are equal interesting. Gene Kelly brings wit and bite to E. K. Hornbeck, a cynical journalist who visits to help the defense (As he says, "I had a nice clean place to stay... and I left it, to come here.") The cast is also filled with future sitcom stars delivering fine performances, including Dick York (soon to be on Bewitched) as the upstanding and brave Bertram T. Cates (the Scopes stand-in) and Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H) as the judge, whose rulings are sometimes frustratingly short-sighted. (Three's Company's Norman Fell has a small role as well.) Additionally, fine performances are delivered by Florence Eldridge as Brady's loyal but intelligent wife Sarah, and Claude Akins as the thunderous Reverend Jeremiah Brown, who looks down on Cates' engagement to his daughter Rachel (Donna Anderson) with disgust and outrage.

Generally considered a pillar of Hollywood issue-oriented filmmaking, and as entertaining as it is educational, Inherit the Wind has lofty goals and reaches them with extraordinary craftsmanship and intelligence. It helped set the cinematic tone for other ground-breaking social and political films of the 1960's like In the Heat of the Night. With a terrific script, top-notch performances, and a fascinating subject, Inherit the Wind truly is a classic.

VIDEO:
The black and white widescreen picture (at 1.66:1 it is barely wider than full-frame) is pretty good. Contrast is nice, with good blacks, but edge enhancement seems to have been used a bit, leaving some denser scenes looking a bit crunchy. Also, there are some ugly bits of damage to the print, leaving a few stutters and splices.

AUDIO:
The mono audio track is fine. The music is surprisingly robust and the dialog is well produced. Spanish and French subtitles are available.

EXTRAS:
A trailer is included.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Although this is another simple, low-budget release from MGM, the quality of the film overcomes the shortcomings of the disc (as is often the case with this catalog rich with classics). As an introduction to issues that are fundamental to our nation, Inherit the Wind is a text-book. Even though it should still inspire discussion (it's ok to disagree with the moral, the film says, as long as you're using your noodle), the film is powerful, opinionated, smart, and, above all, entertaining.

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