Ten Things To Know About Inherit The Wind

Here are 10 trivia facts about Inherit The Wind from 1960, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. Betrayal was a subplot of the film.

In the movie, Bertram Cates is engaged to Rev. Brown’s daughter, and Matthew Brady used the relationship to manipulate her to give damaging testimony at the trial. Those scenes are entirely fictional. The real-life John Scopes (portrayed as biology teacher Cates in the film) reportedly was not engaged nor did he have a girlfriend at the time of his trial.

2. This movie was filmed in black and white.

Although today it is almost unheard of to make a movie that isn’t in color, it was very common in the 1950s and 60s. Some people still prefer it.

3. The movie was set in the summer.

The intense heat is referenced many times throughout the film and scenes are included of the players fanning themselves with paper fans with “Mason’s Funeral Parlor” advertising on the back of each fan. Both Spencer Tracy and Fredric March played their parts so well, viewers believed they were actually sweltering in the heat.

4. Many of the actors in this film became better known for subsequent TV roles.

Although five of the actors had successful film careers, they were seen by many more millions of people in TV shows… Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H*), Claude Akins (Movin’ On), Norman Fell (Three’s Company), Noah Beery Jr. (Rockford Files) and Dick York (Bewitched). Another piece of trivia is that “Inherit the Wind” was Dick York’s last theatrical appearance.

5. One of the main characters dies in the movie.

Fredric March, playing Matthew Harrison Brady (based upon the real life lawyer William Jennings Bryan), passed out and eventually died from his grueling courtroom scenes… in the movie only — Fredric March died 15 years later in 1975.

6. One of the stars of the film was a two-time Tony-Award winner.

Fredric March also appeared on the Broadway stage and won two Tony Awards. First, as Best Dramatic Actor in 1947 for “Years Ago” and then again in 1957 for his landmark performance in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

7. A well-known musical star played a dramatic role in this film.

Gene Kelly was no stranger to meaty dramatic roles but by 1956, he was very well known for his musical talents. He originally turned down the role and Robert Vaughn was asked to step in until Kelly heard that both Spencer Tracy and Fredric March were playing the leads and he changed his mind. Oddly enough, this was tremendous risk-taking by the director Stanley Kramer who had not yet actually signed Tracy and March on the dotted line.

8. The director of this film was nominated for an Academy-Award multiple times but never won.

Stanley Kramer, one of the most prolific directors in Hollywood was nominated a whopping nine times for Academy Awards. Believe it or not, some of his respectable “losing” films were: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, The Defiant Ones, High Noon, Ship of Fools, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Caine Mutiny and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

9. The movie is based on true events.

The movie is based on the “Scopes Monkey Trial” where schoolteacher John Thomas Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee law by teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution to his students. Gene Kelly’s character of E.K. Hornbeck was based on American journalist H.L. Mencken, who had notably covered the real Scopes trial. William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow were the opposing lawyers.

10. The title of the film is based on a biblical proverb.

Although many movies have used biblical phrases in the film’s title, this one comes from the Book of Proverbs, 11:29: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

Another piece of trivia, not part of our quiz but interesting nonetheless. Both Fredric March and Spencer Tracy played the same role as the diabolical doctor with a split personality. In 1932, March took home the Best Actor Oscar for Paramount’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and then in 1941, Tracy repeated the role at MGM.

Now you can enjoy Spencer Tracy, Fredric March and Gene Kelly in the theatrical trailer for Inherit The Wind:

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  • george l. fournier

    “Inherit the wind” is one of the most entertaining movies I have ever seen. The performances of the two main characters are
    something to behold. Spencer Tracy has never disappointed me in any role that he has played.He
    was exceptional in “Guess who`s coming to dinner”
    as well. He surpasses himself in this one. It is
    at the top of my Top Ten List !

  • WALT JANEKE

    AS GEORGE FOURNIER, ABOVE, SAYS “IT’S IN THE TOP TEN” FOR SURE!! AND AS FOR BLACK & WHITE, IN THE TOP FIVE. THE COURTROOM SCENE’S ARE HIGHLY DRAMATIC AND CATCH YOUR BREATH. TRACY HAS ALWAYS BEEN A FAVORITE OF MINE (HAVE YOU SEEN HIM IN “FATHER OF THE BRIDE”? – HE WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST ACTOR ON THAT ONE). I WAS “BROUGHT UP” ON BLACK & WHITE AND STILL THINK IT MAKES THE BEST MOTION PICTURES, MAINLY BECAUSE ONE CAN CONCENTRATE ON THE STORY/CHARACTERS AND NOT THE SPLASH’S OF COLOR. AS THE SAYING GOES “TRY IT, YOU’LL LIKE (THOROUGHLY ENJOY) IT.”

  • Steve in Sacramento

    Here’s my review of Inherit the Wind:

    (5 stars out of 5.) Stagy, overwritten, overacted (at least by March), probably historically inaccurate, and as subtle as a sledgehammer–and yet I love this movie!! Maybe it’s the interesting subject matter (fundamentalism / creationism vs. evolution, still relevant today), the great dialogue (overwritten yes, great nonetheless), a wonderful lived-in performance by Spencer Tracy, the complicated viewpoint, or the surprising emotional kick at the end. Yes, I think it’s all of those, especially the emotional kick, and the movie’s humanity towards its characters. In fact, I would mark this movie’s humanity as having had a profound effect on my life. In this regard, the movie is far more than the defense of Darwinism and evolution that it seems obviously to be–but also a subtle defense of the humanity that lies behind religious thought and morality–such as “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemy”–at its best.

  • Eddie Quillen

    Two quick notes: The authors of the original play “Inherit the Wind” said that the show was not really about evolution vs creationism per se, but was a critique of the anti-intellectualism of McCarthyism, arguing it intended to show that things hadn’t really changed in the last 25 years (they wrote it in 1950 but couldn’t get it produced until 1954).

    And, regarding black and white movies in general, numerous Orson Welles biographers, over the years, have written of him extolling the virtues of black and white over color in cinema, whether in regards to the use of shadows or his description to Peter Bogdanovich of b&w as the actor’s friend.

  • Jon Jackson

    I wouldn’t consider March’s performance “over-acted”, as Steve in Sacramento describes it. The role of William Jennings Bryan demanded a bombastic, self-dramatizing performance; Bryan was one of the most flamboyant rhetoricians of his times and as a self-appointed “defender of the faith” he naturally fell into the even more melodramatic style of a fire and brimstone preacher. If one reads H.L. Mencken’s accounts of this trial, even discounting his well-known acerbic style, one is still struck by the fact that Bryan represented appeared to be the last of a dying breed, the over-the-top tent preacher of late 19th and early 20th centuries. (How could Mencken have imagined that the breed would continue to flourish in the age of television? How have we endured it?)
    That’s the great dramatic juxtaposition of the trial, anyway: the florid, bombastic, passionate oratorical style of Bryan, versus the intense, but calculating rationality and intellectual shrewdness of Clarence Darrow. Not that Darrow, in other circumstances, wasn’t willing to indulge in flamboyance, but here he understood the value of contrasting a calm, Olympian aplomb with Bryan’s gnashing fury.

  • Neal Cowan

    I was astonished to learn, when I read the transcript of the actual trial, that some of the most “overwritten” and unlikely bits of dialog in the film are quoted directly from that transcript.

  • Albert Abnrams

    The original version played on Broadway. Paul Muni played Scopes lawyer & Ed Begley was Wm. Jennings Bryant. I saw it 4 times. It was a terrific play.

  • Rufnek

    Here’s some odd but true facts about the real Scopes trial: Scopes wasn’t in class the day evolution was taught in the science class–if it ever were. There’s some doubt as to whether that class was actually taught or who may have taught it, if it were. But Scopes, a single man, volunteered to be the subject for the test case. The whole idea of challenging the state law and having a local trial on the legality of the ban against teaching evolution was a plot by the local chamber of commerce who hoped to use the trial to bring state and national attention to their city and thereby attract investment in such a progressive community. Unfortunately, the plan backfired as the town got tarred as a place of superstitious hicks and all the investments flowed to neighboring communities. Scopes was convicted and fined but never served time in jail. Instead, he went on to have a career as a geologist with an oil company.

  • Mary

    Many critics felt Gene Kelly did a poor job of acting in this film. I thought he was great and although he was one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of all time, it was nice to see him in a non dancing role. Spencer Tracy was an acting genius.

  • timbeer

    to take #4 a little further, fans of The Andy Griffith Show will recognize the characters of Clara (the next door neighbor and music teacher), Emmett (who owned the fix it shop) and Ben Weaver (owner of the department store who was featured in a notable christmas episode).

  • Jim

    William Jenings Bryan was nominated by the Democrat party to run against Republican nominee William McKinley in 1896 following the former’s “Cross of Gold” speech. As we know, McKinley won.

    Later, Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson but resigned when he accused Wilson of leaning toward Britain and France during World War I in spite of a declared neutrality with all warring parties.

    In the Scopes’ trial of 1925, prosecutor Bryan was humiliated by activist lawyer Clarence Darrow who ridiculed Bryan’s fundamentalist religious beliefs. However, Bryan won the case.

  • Al Hooper

    The author of the piece gives Stanley Kramer rather too much credit in listing his directorial achievements. Fred Zinnemann directed “High Noon.” Kramer produced it.
    – Al Hooper

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Thanks Al, it was Fred Zinnemann. I was probably feeling generous that day when I added a movie he produced that many critics thought deserved the Best Picture Oscar.

  • Nathan Faut

    I can only recommend reading “The Center of the Storm” by Mr. Scopes himself, published in 1965, 30 years after the trial. He quotes extensive parts of the trial transcript. If you compare the Lee & Lawrence stage play vs. the movie script you will find that one of Spencer Tracy’s great soliloquy’s comes not-quite-verbatum from the trial transcript but not included in the original play script. “And so your honor with drums beating and banners waving we’ll be marching backward into the glorious days of the sixteenth century when bigots burned a man [...]” if my memory serves me properly. I recommend a textual comparison of the trial scenes. It’s interesting to see what was added to the movie.

  • John Stanton

    Spencer Tracy made a great Clarence Darrow, and Fredric March was a great William Jennings Bryan, but Gene Kelly as H.L. Mencken?? Not even close. Totally unbelievable.

  • Steve in Sacramento

    @ Jon Jackson: Thanks for the insights. You know, I should probably omit that statement. I do realize March was playing a “performer” in William Jennings Bryan, but I can still sense the seams a little. (Or maybe it’s the makeup that didn’t quite work for me?!) But that’s small fries, and probably not worth mentioning–I actually really like March in the movie, and like I said, I love the climax, which is surely due in no small part to the way March is able to garner genuine and considerable sympathy for this character…. Otherwise, just excited to see that people are still into this movie and the history behind it.

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  • Katedooley4peace

    I also thought March’s makeup didn’t work. To me the makeup was obvious and made his performance seem more over the top than it really was. Spencer Tracy was wonderful…just imagine him with old man makeup! He would have never stood for that. Maybe I am being picky, but Fredrick March looked like a clown with the fake forehead and fake bald head. It ruins the movie for me.