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MGM Studios DVD presents
Inherit the Wind (1960)

"As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry, and hate, I say the hell with it."
- Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: December 05, 2001

Stars: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly
Other Stars: Dick York, Donna Anderson, Harry Morgan, Claude Akins
Director: Stanley Kramer

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 02h:08m:13s
Release Date: December 11, 2001
UPC: 027616869388
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B D-

DVD Review

Inherit the Wind, adapted from the stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, recreates the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925. When a high school science teacher (Dick York) violates a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of Darwin's theory of Evolution, his trial becomes the focus of a battle between religion and science. Charismatic fundamentalist leader and former Presidential candidate Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March, in a role based on William Jennings Bryan) leads the prosecution, while crusty lawyer Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy, modeled on Clarence Darrow) defends the cause of science.

Stanley Kramer's film opens the original play up considerably without sacrificing its text or its pacing. The action is anchored in a small town dominated by an ominous, coercive degree of religious fervor, underscored by the opening theme, a creepy minor-key rendition of Old Time Religion sung by Leslie Uggams. Kramer's mobile (if occasionally unsteady) camera lends immediacy and energy to the courtroom scenes that dominate the film, and deep-focus shots capture the foreground conflict as well as the tension among the townsfolk. Some liberties are taken with legal procedure for the sake of drama, and the dialogue retains a "stagy" quality, with key speeches filmed in long, continuous takes, but the material never loses its impact.

It goes without saying that Spencer Tracy and Fredric March bring intensity and consummate craft to their performances—Drummond and Brady are old friends, pitted against each other in the courtroom over a difference of ideas, and their scenes together generate warmth and fire in equal measure. Viewers may be more surprised (and pleasantly so) by Gene Kelly's turn as a wise-cracking journalist, and by the dramatic work from several actors better known for their later television roles. Dick York is intelligent and earnest as the accused educator, and Harry Morgan is calm and reasonable as the presiding judge. Claude Akins turns in a memorable appearance as the Reverend Jeremiah Brown, a local hellfire-and-brimstone preacher who once damned an innocent child to hell during his remarks at the unfortunate boy's funeral.

Inherit the Wind suffers from a structural flaw that undermines its point to some degree. The conflict between religion and science isn't really explored in a serious way—while Drummond attempts to raise doubt about the law's literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, the outcome of the trial is determined by Brady's quest for self-aggrandizement in the name of God. Neither Brady, gone slightly mad in his determination to promote his beliefs, nor Reverend Brown, a self-righteous zealot, is much of a foe for Drummond—they're paper tigers, who are not discredited so much as exposed. We're led to believe that the town's small-mindedness and fear of science is linked to its right-wing religious leadership, but the apparent presumption that it will disappear overnight if Drummond prevails begs the question and sidesteps the more interesting issues. Drummond, accused of agnosticism and atheism by his foes, is in fact a moderate but religious man; he simply sees no unresolvable conflict between the poetry of Genesis and the scientific theory of Evolution. But he isn't given a real opportunity to argue his ideas, and the film ends on an ambiguous note that isn't as satisfying as it might have been.

Still, Inherit the Wind is highly entertaining courtroom cinema, intense and thought-provoking, with solid performances by two giants of the silver screen. Slightly dated but still in possession of its power to fascinate, it's well worth a viewing.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM's Inherit the Wind DVD presents this black & white catalog title in its original 1.66:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, in letterboxed, nonanamorphic format. The source print exhibits some flecks and speckles, but is generally in nice condition with subtle grain, and the crisp digital transfer features solid shadow detail and contrast despite light level variations in some darker scenes. The image resolution could have been improved with an anamorphic transfer, but there's little else to complain about here.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Inherit the Wind retains its original monaural soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format for ProLogic decoding to the center speaker. Dialogue was largely recorded "live" on the set and often suffers from low-frequency microphone noise, and frequency and dynamic range are limited, though the opening theme (with vocals by Leslie Uggams) sounds more modern than the film proper. The DVD transfer seems accurate and is quite clean, with few distracting pops or crackles and minimal hiss. The disc also includes French and Spanish dubs—the French track has a clean "studio" sound, significantly crisper than the English track, but the Spanish track suffers from a noisy, heavily clipped character. A dated but clean soundtrack presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:42s

Extras Review: The Inherit the Wind DVD features no substantial extras, just 16 picture-menu chapter stops, French and Spanish subtitles, and the film's theatrical trailer. There's a careless error in the subtitle implementation—French subtitles are turned ON by default, a minor annoyance that's easy enough to correct but should have been caught in quality assurance.

The four-minute theatrical trailer is unconventional in its approach, playing down the controversial subject matter. Director Stanley Kramer appears onscreen to introduce the film, and the trailer focuses more on international premieres and critical raves, with just a few brief clips of Tracy and March locked in courtroom combat. The trailer is in 1.33:1 full-frame format, drawn from an analog video master that is generally clean but exhibits red/blue false color aliasing on fine patterns.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Inherit the Wind is an intense if slightly dated courtroom drama that explores serious questions of faith versus science, enhanced by strong performances. MGM's DVD features a solid transfer, though supplements are scarce. Definitely worth a spin.


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