Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Fifteen, Part Two: ‘Inherit the Wind’ (1960)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. There has been a few disagreements, some indifference but plenty of mutual appreciation. Will it last as the countdown continues?

It was a poor week for Yasser with his choice scoring just four. How will Fred’s pick of the week go down in this last ‘Film Club’ before we enter the ‘Top 10s’?

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.

Fred: My choice this week was ‘Inherit the Wind‘, a film of a play, based on a true story. Were you familiar with the true story behind the play?

Yasser: Like most of the movies on your list I was walking into it with no or limited knowledge, Fred. Why did you choose it?

FS: It was tough to leave this out of my top ten. Stanley Kramer doesn’t have the best reputation as a director, but he’s one of my favourite directors. He tended to make films that dealt with big issues and here he’s looking into the debate around science and religion.

YA: More on that later…

FS: My second reason is that I’ve always loved courtroom dramas and this is up there with the best. It’s really well done and it handles the theme very fairly, not coming down on one side or the other.

YA: Okay, anything else?

FS: The main reason is it contains two incredible acting performances. Frederic March is superb, but Spencer Tracy‘s performance is, perhaps, the best I’ve ever seen. He’s my favourite actor, and I think this may be my favourite performance by him

‘Inherit the Wind’
USA – 1960
Director: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Florence Eldridge

YA: So, let’s talk about the idea, the theme. From a personal point of view, I love religion, and not only my own. The worst part of religion is the nut-jobs that come out of the woodwork

FS: Okay…

YA: In this film, we have a town of right-wing Chtistians

FS: “Heavenly Hillsboro”, where a teacher is arrested for slipping Darwin’s Theory of Evolution into the syllabus. His upcoming trial rapidly gains national attention

YA: Fanatics and their organisations that claim they’re doing the right thing in God’s name annoy me

FS: What I like is that it’s not only the religious zealots who are shown up, but the film shows the hypocracy of the town council who are more interested in the money the trial may generate than the actual question of right and wrong

YA: I was just about to mention that

FS: Would you say it was a plot and story that interested you?

YA: Eventually

FS: Did you feel it took a while to get going?

YA: Yeah, exactly that. I found a lot of the film was difficult to keep up with, not intellectually, it just took ages to get into it

FS: At what point did it get interesting? The beginning of the trial or later than that?

YA: We see the teacher Bertram Cates (Dick York) get arrested, but was only when the charming and charismatic Gene Kelly arrives on screen that I got interested in the movie. Unfortunately, to my dismay, he had very little screen time

FS: When he turned up did you think ‘hang on… is this a musical‘?

YA: (laughs) Not quite. He brought humour to it. I liked his dry, sassy wit

FS: I think the first time i ever watched it I probably thought the same, that until Kelly turns up it’s quite slow. I guess, though, I’m surprised you said he didn’t have enough screen time as he’s in it quite a lot

YA: In the court case he’s there but he’s not as vocal as I’d have liked him to be

FS: He had a lot of funny lines. His character is irreverent and cynical. I have a second point on that actually

YA: Shoot!

FS: You said “unfortunately he had very little screen time”. That makes me worry as when he’s not on screen, March and Tracy are…

YA: Yeah. I’m just glad it wasn’t Cates

FS: (laughs)

YA: Dick York is abysmal, and Donna Anderson

FS: They are both quite out of their depth against three legends

YA: Claude Akins, as well, as her father the Reverend Brown…in that scene where he argues with her after she comes home, he delivers one of the worst semi-monologues I’ve ever seen… worst acting I’ve seen on your list

FS: (laughs) Shit!

FS: I’m scared to ask this now, but what did you think of Tracy?

YA: He came to the town and had moments of wit, like Kelly’s Hornbeck. I was happy to see an actor that wasn’t rubbish, but playing the game as Henry Drummond, Tracy was quite low-key

FS: Well he’s supposed to be the opposite of March’s blustering, loud Matthew Harrison Brady

YA: Tracy only came to life when he was acting opposite March

FS: I think that may be intentional, as the film needs to build to the scene where Drummond put’s Brady on the stand

YA: Oh! I’m not saying it was a bad thing. I think it’s a good contrast. It helps the conclusion of the film

FS: I obviosuly take issue with the idea that Tracy only comes alive when March is on screen. He has some beautiful scenes without him, such as when he talks to Anderson about free thinking, the scene with Kelly in the hotel bedroom…

YA: I understand what you are trying to say. He was passionate, but he had a humble tone and a relaxed screen presence

FS: As Humphrey Bogart said about Tracy, “you don’t see the mechanism at work

YA: WHAT? I do. This is the first Spencer Tracy movie I’ve seen

FS: You have so much joy ahead of you

YA: We’ll see. (laughs) Perhaps it was the director or writer’s fault, but he was really toned down at times and didn’t command as much screen presence than the others

FS: He was playing a man who left his theatrics for the court room, though! I don’t understand what you wanted from him

YA: I know how much you love Tracy, but I’m just saying that he was good, but only awesome in the scenes opposite March

FS: Was March the better actor in your opinion?

YA: No Tracy was. They were totally contrasting characters. March’s Brady was very insecure at times. His ego needed the townfolk to be on his side. Even the absurd honourary title of ‘Colonel’ went to his head

FS: Yes indeed.

YA: I only started to truly appreciate them and their characters in the ‘Golden Dancer’ scene

FS: That’s disappointing as that is about half way through

YA: Hey, hey! Up until that point I enjoyed them, but that scene was when I truly understood their differences, like how Drummond played Brady’s ego

FS: Most of their key scenes take place in the court room. What did you make of that section of the film?

YA: That second half of the film was the most engrossing

FS: Good, good

YA: You could see the ridiculousness unfolding in Brady’s character. The people of the town were like putty in his palm, but when Drummond outfoxed him, he started to lose it mentally. He lost control of himself and the townsfolk and you saw his true, insecure nature

FS: All Drummond’s witnesses are refused by the court so he put’s Brady on the stand

YA: That was clever. Brady’s frustrations built up as he struggled to explain possible contradictions in the Bible

FS: Drummond knew that Brady’s pride and arrogance wouldn’t let him say no to being cross-examined. How do you think the director and script writers handled the ‘religion v. science’ debate?

YA: I thought they did a splendid job. The director managed to convey the writer’s intention to show how absurd fanaticism is, yet they didn’t abuse the integrity of religion. They showed the followers as narrow-minded, not that the Bible was morally wrong

FS: You seemed to quite enjoy it, but I get the feeling it never quite fired on all cylinders for you

YA: It didn’t. The majority of times I’m buzzing when a movie involves a court scene at the end, but some of the acting and the slow pace hindered the film. Tell me why it’s just outside your top 10?

FS: At certain times in my life, I come across someone – a director, an actor, a musician – and I like them so much, so quickly that I have to try and devour as much of their work as possible. I’ve never experienced it as strongly with anyone than Spencer Tracy. I saw this quite early on in that process and the first time I watched it I didn’t think it was amazing. It probably took three or four viewings for me to realise how brilliant it is. I love the story, the setting, the script, but it’s the acting first and foremost that I love

YA: The film started poorly. York, Anderson and Akins were poorly cast, and there was ridiculously bad moments that made me wonder why you chose this film. Kelly’s arrival was a glimpse of brilliance, but it took a very long time to get started with a lot of unnecessary stuff, like the mundane romance. The film very much relies on Drummond and Brady, their friendship and their conflict and the rocking chair scene captures this beautifully. The court scenes are where we see everything come to fruition – the battle between the two of them and the conflict of religion and evolution. I didn’t like the pace of the film, but the director and writer did a good job showing that religion and science can co-exist

FS: Okay…

YA: Tracy was good throughout, but only at the end was he immaculate. March did a fantastic job, as did Kelly. Their acting skills don’t make up for the supporting cast and the slow pace, though. It’s a 6/10

FS: I can live with that more than the ‘6’ for ‘A Matter of Life and Death‘ as I know this is a more personal choice

Next week: We are in to the ‘Top 10s’ with two of cinema’s biggest icons, 007 and The Tramp