Stanley Kramer (director)
14 May 2018 (released)
01 June 2018
This 1960 film is based on the 1955 stage play of the same name and is in effect a courtroom drama. The idea is taken from the famous 'Monkey Trials' of 1925, which pitted the most famous American defense lawyer of all time, Clarence Darrow, against the revered Fundamentalist politician William Jennings Bryan. Here, for some reason, all the names of the protagonists have been changed.
Darrow becomes Henry Drummond and Bryan becomes Matthew Harrison Brady whose bald pate rather resembles Bryan's. The playwrights also wanted to draw a direct parallel with McCarthy's anti-Communist 'Witch hunts' that took place a few years before their play was written.
The premise here is that in a fictional small town in the American bible belt, school teacher Benjamin Cates (modeled on real-life teacher John T. Scopes) has fallen foul of the local authorities for teaching 'Darwinism'; surely any fool must conclude that Darwin was entirely correct - not that that made him any kind of genius, just a forward thinking rational man of his time. Teacher Cates btw is played by Dick York (best known as the first Darren in the popular TV-series BEWITCHED). Quite why Cates is doing this in an immensely backward Bible belt town does not make much sense at all unless he sees himself as some kind of martyr. As if that’s not enough he is dating Rachel (Donna Andrson), the daughter of local hellfire and brimstone preacher Reverend Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins having a bit of OTT fun). Before you know it Cates finds himself arrested and in Court; now what was the charge? Advocating blasphemy: amounting to the corruption of innocent youth (well it amounted to just about the same thing). The actual trials took place in Dayton, Tennessee, here the town is called Hillsboro. What initially seems to appear like a straightforward case soon turns into a nationwide (later worldwide) media frenzy thanks to cynical journalist E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) of the Baltimore Herald, whose character was modeled on Henry L. Mencken. It’s thanks to him that Drummond shows up on the horizon, much to the protests and sneers of the bigoted locals.
The odds would certainly appear to be mightily stacked against Drummond pulling off a victory as the Jury are all local men and he is refused permission to put any of his 'scientific' witnesses in the box. He is left with but one alternative and that is to put main prosecutor Brady in the box. These two men, sad to say, are old friends and it should be mentioned that Drummond is not an atheist but an agnostic and Brady is not exactly a zealot, but...
Tracy, who had not been working on a regular basis, and looks every single year of his 60 years really is quite outstanding as Drummond (he WAS a star), ask yourself would Henry Fonda or even Cagney bettered his performance? And March always gave total value for money. Gene Kelly also gives entertaining support as the cynical journo as does the ubiquitous Harry Morgan as the town Judge Merle Coffey. Director Kramer does a spellbinding job here and Ernest Lazlo’s photography could not be bettered. Indeed it was a great idea to make a film starring two of Hollywood's most respected screen actors, Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. Kramer (who was to make a few more memorable ventures with Tracy) had wanted Tracy for the role of defending lawyer Henry Drummond from the start; he'd worked with March some years before. A curious coincidence that both actors (far too respectable to appear in lowbrow 'Horror Movies') had both played the lead in versions of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (March in 1931 and Tracy in 1940). This film (one can only surmise non-commercial appeal) was not exactly a success at the box office (certainly not in the bible belt) which is a real shame as its topic about religious bigotry and fanaticism was as thought-provoking then as it is now. For the curious, the film’s title is derived from proverb 11:29 of the Holy Bible: “Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind.”
This Dual-Format release offers a Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet, Video interview and Original Theatrical Trailer as bonus material.