Inherit the Wind [1960]

Two of the juiciest roles in the American theater fall at the feet of Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, and both men make a meal of it. Inherit the Wind, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, is a slightly fictionalized account of the Scopes Monkey Trial, that galvanizing legal drama of the 1920s. When a young Tennessee teacher is prosecuted for teaching the theory of evolution in a public school, he receives unwanted public attention as well as the legal advice of a giant. Tracy plays the role based on Clarence Darrow, the eloquent defense attorney, and March storms his way through a part based on Williams Jennings Bryan, the failed presidential candidate (and famed orator) who prosecuted the case. Gene Kelly plays a character based on the acid-penned H.L. Mencken, reporting on the trial and caustically commenting on the absurdity of the human animal. Stanley (Judgment at Nuremberg) Kramer's direction is not especially subtle, but the verbal fireworks unleashed during the trial sequences are still stirring. Even the different styles of the actors are intriguing: March is all mannerism and false padding around the belly, while Tracy does his patented naturalistic grumbling. It would be nice if this story were a quaint period piece, but its issues and arguments keep reemerging in the headlines with each new generation. --Robert Horton

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