Stanley Kramer, Inherit the Wind (1960)
It is rare to see a movie that is 50 years old about a topic that was in the news 80 years ago, that still has kept its relevance and cinematographically not been dated whatsoever, but ‘Inherit the Wind’ is a classic of its own sort. Of course, there’s no acting like it anymore, with star actors like Spencer Tracey, Fredrick March and Gene Kelly who were trained in an era that good actors were most of all drama actors who played character roles. But also the play by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence is brilliant with lines like ‘I might be rancid butter, but I am on your side of the bread’.
The play is a celebration of thr triumph in modern Amerika of the free-thinking individual mind versus the dogmatic believers of the old faith. But how actual this fight still is unfortunately in the bible belt of America and the world! Creationism is not dead yet and the scientific findings of evolution are painful in their truth and denial of divine powers. Only stain on the movie is perhaps the conciliatory tone by which the movie ends, in which the ‘agnostic atheist’ walks out of the court room with the Bible and Darwin’s ‘The descent of man’, while attacking the nihilist reporter played by Gene Kelly, to whom nothing matters and for whom no one will be mourning at his grave. This stereotype of the nihilist is powerfully exploited by religious people, portarying him as a lonely and pathetic figure, the cold thinker who deep down, behind his facade of self-assurance hides the depth of loneliness. So, okay, you are gonna have to shrug your shoulders at the end, but apart from the last 60 seconds, it is all worth watching.
“An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned to snakes, or the parting of waters!”
The play was based on the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, in which the teacher John T. Scopes resisted the state law that forbid teaching the theory that man descended from lower animals in public schools or school funded by state money. The whole discussion resembles closely the policy of the current Bush administration that forbids federal funding of research using new stem cell lines, fund AIDS/HIV programs that support the use of condoms or that directs funds to faith based initiatives mainly. Do I believe in the evolution of man, in progress and advance of knowledge, yes, wholeheartedly, but it may be noted that progress occurs in different paces and not all folk out there advance with time.