Inherit the Wind (1960 film)

Inherit the Wind is a 1960 Hollywood film adaptation of the 1955 play of the same name, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. The film was directed by Stanley Kramer.

Inherit the Wind
Directed byStanley Kramer
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written by
Music byErnest Gold
CinematographyErnest Laszlo, ASC
Edited byFrederic Knudtson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • June 25, 1960 (1960-06-25) (Berlin Film Festival)
  • July 21, 1960 (1960-07-21) (Dayton, Tennessee)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[2][3]
Box office$2,000,000 (worldwide)[3]

It stars Spencer Tracy as lawyer Henry Drummond and Fredric March as his friend and rival Matthew Harrison Brady, also featuring Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Noah Beery Jr., Florence Eldridge, and Jimmy Boyd.

The script was adapted by Nedrick Young (originally as Nathan E. Douglas) and Harold Jacob Smith.[4] Stanley Kramer was commended for bringing in writer Nedrick Young, as the latter was blacklisted and forced to use the pseudonym Nathan E. Douglas. Inherit the Wind is a parable that fictionalizes the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial as a means to discuss McCarthyism.[5] Written in response to the chilling effect of the McCarthy era investigations on intellectual discourse, the film (like the play) is critical of creationism.

The film had its World Premiere at the 10th Berlin International Film Festival on June 25, 1960.[1]

A television remake of the film starring Melvyn Douglas and Ed Begley was broadcast in 1965. Another television remake starring Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas aired in 1988. It was once again remade for TV in 1999, co-starring Jack Lemmon as Drummond and George C. Scott as Brady.


In the small Southern town of Hillsboro, in the 1920s, a school teacher, Bertram Cates, is about to stand trial for teaching Darwinism, which is a violation of state law. Cates is denounced by town leaders including Reverend Jeremiah Brown.

The town is excited because Matthew Brady, a noted statesman and three-time presidential candidate, will be assisting in the prosecution of Cates. A staunch foe of evolution and a Biblical scholar, Brady will sit beside prosecuting attorney Tom Davenport, in the courtroom of Judge Coffey.

The teacher's defense is to be handled by the equally well-known Henry Drummond, one of America's most controversial legal minds and a long-standing acquaintance and adversary of Brady. An influential newspaperman, E.K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald, has persuaded Drummond to represent Cates, and ensured that his newspaper and a radio network will provide nationwide coverage of the case.

Rev. Brown publicly rallies the townspeople against Cates and Drummond. The preacher's daughter Rachel is conflicted because she and Cates are engaged. When Rachel cries out against her father's condemnation, Brady admonishes Brown by quoting Solomon: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

The courtroom takes on a circus atmosphere with radio broadcasting, newspaper photography and spectator outbursts during the trial. Each time Drummond calls a scientist or authority figure to discuss Darwin's theories, the judge sustains the prosecution's objections and forbids such testimony, ruling that Cates, not evolution, is on trial. Drummond grows frustrated, feeling the case has already been decided. When he asks to withdraw from the case, the judge holds Drummond in contempt of court, orders him jailed, and tells Drummond to show cause the next morning why he should not be held in contempt of court. John Stebbins offers his farm as collateral for Drummond's bail. Stebbins' son was a friend and protege of Cates who drowned after developing a cramp while swimming. Brown had said the child was damned to hell because he was not baptized. This led to Cates abandoning the church, as he felt it was not fair that a child could not enter Heaven due to an action that was beyond his control.

That night, mocking crowds go by the jail and then to the hotel where Drummond is staying. Drummond is trying to decide how to present his defense without his witnesses and states that he needs a miracle. Hornbeck throws him a Bible from Brady, stating "There are plenty in there." As Hornbeck pours some drinks and turns to Drummond, he is surprised by Drummond holding the Bible and smiling.

Drummond calls Brady himself to the witness stand. Brady's confidence in his Biblical knowledge is so great that he welcomes this challenge, but becomes flustered under Drummond's cross-examination, unable to explain certain Biblical events, until he is forced to confess that at least some Biblical passages cannot be interpreted literally. Drummond hammers home his point — that Cates, like any other man, demands the right to think for himself, and those citing divine support as a rationale to silence him are wrong.

The jury finds Cates guilty, but, the judge, concerned with political embarrassment, only fines him $100. Brady is furious and tries to enter a speech into the record, but Drummond persuades the judge to disallow it as the trial has concluded. As court adjourns, Brady tries to give his speech but most ignore him outside of his wife and his opponents at the defense table — Cates, Rachel, Hornbeck, and Drummond. As he becomes increasingly hysterical, he suffers a "busted belly" and dies.

After the crowd has cleared out, Hornbeck talks with Drummond, wanting to use the Bible quotation from Brown's rally, where Brady had quoted the "inherit the wind" verse because Rev. Brown was about to damn his own daughter to hell. Drummond quotes the verse verbatim, shocking Hornbeck, who states, "Well, we're growing an odd crop of agnostics this year!" They argue over Brady's legacy, Drummond accuses Hornbeck of being a heartless cynic, and Hornbeck walks out, leaving Drummond alone in the courtroom. Drummond picks up the Bible and Darwin's book (On the Origin of Species), balancing them in his hands before walking out with both of them.


Uncredited roles include Richard Deacon, George Dunn, Snub Pollard, Addison Richards, Harry Tenbrook, Will Wright[6] Actress and singer Leslie Uggams sings both the opening and closing songs by herself a cappella.

Kramer offered the role of Henry Drummond to Spencer Tracy, who initially turned it down. Kramer then sought March, Kelly and Eldridge as co-stars, and Tracy eventually agreed to make the film. However, none of the other co-stars had been signed at the time; Tracy was the first. Once Tracy signed on, the others signed too.[7]



Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, which took place between July 10 and July 21, 1925, and resulted in John T. Scopes's conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law. The characters of Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Scopes, and H. L. Mencken, respectively. However, Lee and Lawrence state in a note at the opening of the play on which the film is based that it is not meant to be a historical account,[8] and many events were substantially altered or invented.[9][10][11] For instance, the characters of the preacher and his daughter were fictional, the townspeople were not hostile towards those who had come to Dayton for the trial, and Bryan offered to pay Scopes' fine if he was convicted. Bryan did die shortly after the trial's conclusion, but his death occurred in his sleep five days later, on July 26, 1925, at age 65.[10][11] Political commentator Steve Benen said of the drama's inaccuracies: "Scopes issued no plea for empathy, there was no fiancee and the real Scopes was never arrested. Lawrence explained in a 1996 interview that the play's purpose was to criticize McCarthyism and defend intellectual freedom. According to Lawrence, "we used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control ... It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."[5]

Adaptation changes

The film includes events from the actual Scopes trial, such as when Darrow was cited for contempt of court when he denounced his perception of prejudice by the court and his subsequent act of contrition the next day to have the charge dropped. The film also expands on the relationship of Drummond and Brady, particularly when the two opponents have a respectful private conversation in rocking chairs, in which they explain their positions in the trial. Furthermore, the film has a sequence occurring on the night after the court recessed and Cates and Drummond are harassed by a mob even as the lawyer is inspired how to argue his case the next day.

Historical Inaccuracies

Being mostly faithful to the play, the film engages in literary license with the facts and should not be relied upon as an historical document. For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher. William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a "busted belly" while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom. The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that happened in Dayton during the actual trial.[12]

Because the judge ruled that scientific evidence was inadmissible, a ruling which the movie depicted, Darrow called Bryan as his only witness and attempted to humiliate him by asking Bryan to interpret Scripture. When Darrow, in his closing remarks, called upon the jury to find Scopes guilty so that he could appeal the verdict, Bryan was kept from delivering his own summation. The guilty verdict was overturned two years later.[13] Bryan suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep five days after the trial ended.[14]


The film had its World Premiere at the 10th Berlin International Film Festival on June 25, 1960.[1] Its U.S. premiere was in Dayton, Tennessee on July 21, 1960.[1]

Box office

The film grossed $2 million worldwide and recorded a loss of $1.7 million.[3]

Critical reception


The film opened to a storm of praise with Kramer and company applauded for capturing the essence of the Scopes trial. Upon the film's release, Variety described it as "a rousing and fascinating motion picture ... roles of Tracy and March equal Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan who collided on evolution ... a good measure of the film's surface bite is contributed by Gene Kelly as a cynical Baltimore reporter (patterned after Henry L. Mencken) whose paper comes to the aid of the younger teacher played by Dick York. Kelly demonstrates again that even without dancing shoes he knows his way on the screen."[15] The movie was also lauded by film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times.[16]

In 2006, film critic Roger Ebert rated the film four stars, referring to it as "a film that rebukes the past when it might also have feared the future".[17]

As of June 18, 2018, the website Rotten Tomatoes had given the film a 92% approval rating, based on 24 reviews with an average rating of 8/10.[18]

Awards and nominations

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1961 Academy Awards[19] Best Actor Spencer Tracy Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Nedrick Young, Harold Jacob Smith Nominated
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Ernest Laszlo Nominated
Best Film Editing Frederic Knudtson Nominated
BAFTA[20] Best Film from Any Source Stanley Kramer Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Fredric March Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Spencer Tracy Nominated
1960 Berlin International Film Festival[21] Golden Bear Stanley Kramer Nominated
Best Actor Fredric March Won
Best Feature Film Suitable for Young People Stanley Kramer Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Inherit the Wind Won

Golden Globes[22]

  • Nominated: Best Film
  • Nominated: Best Actor (Tracy)

See also


  1. Inherit the Wind at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. James Curtis, Spencer Tracy: A Biography, Alfred Knopf, 2011 p769
  3. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 26
  4. "Inherit the Wind Comes to Hollywood - 1960".
  5. BILL BLANKENSHIPThe Capital-Journal (2001-03-02). "Inherit the controversy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  6. Full cast and credits at Internet Movie Database
  7. Robert Osborn, TCM Network, broadcast February 3, 2010
  8. Inherit the Wind: The Playwrights' Note
  10. "Inherit the Wind, Drama for Students". Gale Group. 1 January 1998. Archived from the original on 10 June 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2012.   via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  11. Riley, Karen L.; Brown, Jennifer A.; Braswell, Ray (1 January 2007). "Historical Truth and Film: Inherit the Wind as an Appraisal of the American Teacher". American Educational History Journal. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 31 August 2012.   via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  14. Maier, Simon. "4". Inspire!: Insights and lessons from 100 of the greatest speeches from film and theatre. London: Marshall Cavendish Business.
  15. "Variety review". 1959-12-31. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  16. Crowther, Bosley (1960-10-13). "Movie Review - Inherit the Wind - INHERIT THE WIND -". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  17. Ebert, Roger (2006-01-28). "Roger Ebert Review". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  18. "Inherit the Wind (1960)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  19. "The 33rd Academy Awards (1961) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on October 15, 2015. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  20. "Film in 1961". BAFTA. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  21. "Berlinale: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  22. "Inherit the Wind". Golden Globes. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
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