Based on Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's successful 1955 play, Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind (1960) is perhaps the most well-known dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial and one of his most enduring "message" pictures. It's perhaps most similar in tone to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (directed by Kramer in 1967) with its frank discussion of a hot-button issue that, unfortunately, still exists to a certain degree today -- and though more than a little stagy, Inherit the Wind is so entertaining and provocative that it'll surely hold most of its weight decades from now.
The core story is given more than enough room to breathe -- almost too much, if you've seen it regularly -- as Inherit the Wind draws plenty of time establishing its characters and setting up the courtroom trial that gobbles up a solid hour of screen time. It takes a strong "In this corner..." approach, establishing clear sides while attempting to remain objective, even if its clear bias (rightfully) shows almost every step of the way. Inherit the Wind's main voice of reason is carried by attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy, portraying the Clarence Darrow character), brought in to defend Hillsboro science teacher Bertram "Bert" Cates (Dick York, AKA "Darrin #1" from Bewitched) for actually teaching evolution in his classroom. The town's zealous hatred is tapped into by prosecutor Matthew H. Brady (Fredric March), who's aiming to persuade jury members that Cates ought to be imprisoned for steering his students away from God.
To its credit, Inherit the Wind reminds us that morality and religion are not mutually exclusive: visiting Baltimore Herald reporter E. K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), whose sole purpose seems to be dropping cynical one-liners degrading the religious townsfolk, is as much a bully as Matthew Brady and his disciples. (Such an attitude rarely changes minds, in the same way screaming about hellfire and damnation will only get you laughed at by a fully functioning adult.) And it's true that Inherit the Wind's biggest flaw is painting with such broad strokes: its characters -- or at least a close approximation -- do exist somewhere in America, even now, but that doesn't make them easier to stomach at close range. There are exceptions, of course: Tracy's Henry Drummond is the only free-thinker who gets away clean, while others stuck in the middle (Bert Cates and his girlfriend Rachel, played by Donna Anderson) are developed in an interesting manner. Many of the other supporting characters are so crudely unsympathetic that it draws us deeper into the film's third act and verdict, which mirrors the Scopes Trial while adding a few over-the-top Hollywood touches along the way.
Unfortunately, recent cases like Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and the Kansas evolution hearings -- both of which occurred in 2005 -- prove that science is still being challenged in public schools, which makes Inherit the Wind almost as relevant today as it was almost 60 years ago. (A depressing thought even if you're not the parent of a school-aged child, yet it also reminds us that evolution takes time.) Despite a few fundamental flaws and overcooked characters, Kramer's film holds up remarkably well for obvious reasons -- and though I wasn't around when it was unleashed in theaters, Inherit the Wind's audacious and provocative subject matter certainly ruffled a few feathers. It's a film that deserves to be seen and seen again, passed around and talked about by those on both sides of the fence.
Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray arrives on the heels of their own 2015 DVD and roughly four years after a Blu-ray from Twilight Time, who owned the exclusive rights in high definition until recently. Luckily, Kino's new disc meets or exceeds Twilight Time's Blu-ray in every category, offering what appears to be an identical (and very impressive) A/V presentation while throwing in a brand-new audio commentary to boot. It's still thinner than I'd like for a film of this caliber, but those who haven't purchased Inherit the Wind on Blu-ray yet should certainly get their money's worth.
Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Kino's 1080p transfer of Inherit the Wind looks outstanding and appears to be more or less identical to Twilight Time's out-of-print 2014 Blu-ray. Its overall appearance here is extremely clean with strong detail and texture, along with excellent shadow detail and contrast levels that remain consistent indoors or outside. No obvious digital imperfections -- edge enhancement, compression artifacts, excessive noise reduction, etc. -- could be spotted either, which makes for a very stable and film-like appearance. While I might nitpick about a "double-dip" Blu-ray not going the extra mile with a fresh new scan, what's here should disappoint absolutely no one.
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Not surprisingly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (split mono) mix sounds perfectly fine with little room for improvement. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced with background noise -- more often than not, an enthusiastic mob of unruly zealots -- while music cues enjoy a reasonably solid dynamic range. Overall, this one-channel track largely gets the job done and, to its benefit, optional English (SDH) subtitles have also been included during the main feature only.
The static menu interface (a wall of text, oddly enough) includes options for playback, chapter selection, subtitle setup, and bonus features, with quick loading time and few pre-menu distractions. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase and includes vintage poster-themed artwork and a promotional booklet highlighting other Kino titles.
Die-hard fans of Inherit the Wind are treated to a feature-length Audio Commentary with film historian Jim Hemphill, who serves up an interesting track loaded with context for those who weren't around when the film was first released. Although I really didn't care for his commentary on Kino's recent Blu-ray of Valdez is Coming, Hemphill redeems himself here: topics of discussion include making a case for Inherit the Wind's "underrated" status, similarities to High Noon and other films Kramer was involved with, the Scopes Monkey Trial, Western influences, supporting players and cameo appearances, reason vs. religion, liberties taken with the source material, Kramer's distinct directing style, David O. Selznick and Gene Kelly, the production and set design, Spencer Tracy's career, Fox News, Stanley Kramer's filmography, the left-field closing scene, Inherit the Wind's timeless appeal as a period piece, and much more.
Also included is a nice little collection of Trailers for the main feature and three related Kino titles including Judgment at Nuremberg, Not as a Stranger (both directed by Kramer), and A Child is Waiting (produced by Kramer).
Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind will remain an important film while its core message stays relevant, and neither looks to be going away anytime soon. Featuring top-tier performances and intense arguments about what normally might be considered off-limit subject matter, this oversized courtroom drama still has the power to entertain die-hard fans and first-timers alike. True, it's more than a little stagy -- every other line feels like an overly impassioned speech -- and at times to a comical degree, but I'd be lying if I said Inherit the Wind doesn't suck me in each and every time. Kino's welcome new Blu-ray offers a solid alternative to those who missed Twilight Time's out-of-print 2014 Blu-ray, preserving the excellent A/V presentation while offering a new audio commentary to boot. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.