Monday, March 2, 2009

Class Two - March 2: Inherit the Wind

The fine folks at Wikipedia have a great summary description of Inherit the Wind:

Inherit the Wind is a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, which opened on Broadway in January 1955; a 1960 Hollywood film based on the play; and three television remakes. It was recently brought back onto Broadway in a revival. The play's title comes from Proverbs 11:29, which in the King James Bible reads:

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind:
and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.

Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, which resulted in John T. Scopes' conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law that prohibited the teaching of anything besides creationism. The fictional characters Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Scopes, and H. L. Mencken, respectively.

Despite numerous similarities between the play and history, the play was not intended as a documentary-drama about the Scopes trial, but instead as a warning against dogmatism and the "evils" of McCarthyism.

This was a very personal focus for the screenplay writers, according to a review at It revealed that one of the writers, credited as Nathan E. Douglas, was blacklisted Nedrick Young.

The Wikipedia site also has some terrific analysis of the differences between the script and reality.

I found a neat movie review website called Common Sense Media. It evaluates films and rates them for parents. I really liked how the writers provide some discussion questions to help families be more active viewers. Here's an excerpt of the entire
piece for Inherit the Wind:
Parents need to know that kids will hear some mild swearing. A scene in which a jailed teacher is burned in effigy by a menacing crowd might disturb sensitive kids. The movies raises issues of creationism vs. evolution.

Families can talk about the advantages and limitations of using movies to dramatize historical events. Can movies tell the story of events in ways that other media, such as books or radio, can't? How much of an event can you show in a couple of hours and how do you decide what to leave out? Do you think that the real lawyers arguing this case were swayed slightly towards the others' positions by the end of the trial, as is portrayed here? Or is this simply a device for tying up the story in a neat bow?
You can read the whole review here.

There's an interesting website called beliefnet. It has an article called "The Scopes Trial vs. Inherit the Wind: The Movie's Inaccuracies Have Perpetuated Stereotypes." It's well worth reading. I found the comments section very interesting in light of our class focus of popular culture portrayals of social justice issues and actors:

xsherme 1/8/2000 6:26:10 PM

One thing that I don't think helps is Hollywood's tendency to portray scientists as nerds with no emotional intelligence and no ability to connect with others. An inference from this would be that if such people can't even make friends, they surely can't have an intimate relationship with God.

geasterbrook 1/6/2000 9:08:32 AM

I say yes, it has. Popular culture somehow makes everything seem sillier and more heated at the same time. Its effect on the science and religion debate is the same. The actual debate is more thoughtful and more cordial than you'd ever guess from reading about it in the newspapers.

Clark College Mature Learning Instructor Duane Ray steered me to a very detailed analysis of the differences between the true case and the movie. It's entitled The Monkey Trial. I'm not sure who wrote it. But Duane's endorsement of the material led me to share it with you. Normally, I prefer to know the source of such writing. Duane taught an entire course on the conflict between evolutionists and creationists, so I
trust his judgement.
What did you think of the film? Did it present the conflict fairly? Did it make you think about the issue any differently than you did before you saw it?


Erin said...

I just went to a radio play in SLC based on the transcript of the trial. Ed Asner was William Jennings Bryan, James Gleason was H.L. Menken and John Heard was Clarence Darrow. It was pretty fun!

Fantastic Forrest said...

I'm jealous!

I love radio plays. It would be a tough act to follow, though, to take over from Tracy, March and Kelly. When you say it was based on the trial transcript, I assume they threw out all the fictional stuff about the romance and preacher?