Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Irwin Allen's The Lost World

A dinosaur gets his veggies.
One of my favorite movies as a kid was this 1960 popcorn movie based on the adventure novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A recent viewing (it's available on Amazon Prime) revealed that The Lost World is less enthralling to the adult me. While that was a somewhat disappointing revelation, I stand by my youthful memories to the extent that I can see its appeal to younger audiences. Plus, it's still a lively affair with a good cast and some nice special effects.

Claude Rains as Challenger.
As with similar fantasy adventures (e.g., Journey to the Center of the Earth), the first third of the plot is devoted to preparing for the expedition. This particular trek leads to a plateau in the Amazon where dinosaurs still roam. The intrepid explorers consist of: Professor Challenger (Claude Rains); a skeptical fellow scientist (Richard Haydn); big game hunter Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie); journalist Ed Malone (David Hedison); a helicopter pilot (Fernando Lamas); and socialite Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John) and her Poodle Frosty. (There's also an expendable, greedy guide and Jennifer's brother).

Shortly after the group's landing on the plateau, their helicopter is destroyed by a clumsy dinosaur. Still, getting back to civilization isn't the worst of their problems. There are also giant spiders, cannibals, a volcano on the verge of erupting, a revenge subplot, and the ominously-named "Cave of Fire" (think thin ledges and molten lava).

David Hedison and a pesky dino in the Cave of Fire.
As with 20th Century-Fox's superior Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), live lizards are substituted for the dinosaurs. Naturally, these creatures can never capture the magic of the imaginative stop-motion creatures created by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen in, respectively, King Kong (1933) and The Valley of Gwangi (1969). Still, the special effects, courtesy of Fox's resident expert L.B. Abbott, look convincing enough.

Jill St. John and Hedison.
It's the humans that keep The Lost World from being a better movie. Jill St. John is saddled with a silly character that wears pink pants, a pink belt, and pink the jungle. Even worse, she personifies the extraneous female added to an action movie simply to broaden its appeal. One can understand Challenger's frustrations with her, but his snippy remarks make him sound like a chauvinist pig. Michael Rennie and Fernando Lamas do what they can with their underwritten parts, while David Hedison comes off best as the film's de facto hero.

Ever-resourceful producer Irwin Allen recycled footage from The Lost World in a first-season episode of his TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68) entitled "Turn Back the Clock."  Since David Hedison also starred in Voyage, it worked amazingly well. (For the record, Allen also recycled the plot and footage from his 1961 theatrical film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in a second season episode.)

A scene from the 1925 version.
According to some sources, Willis O'Brien sketched out sequences for The Lost World, which were never used due to budget constraints. Thirty-five years earlier, O'Brien did the special effects for a silent adaptation of Doyle's novel. Its climax featured a Brontosaurus destroying London--an undoubtedly expensive scene which doesn't appear in the 1960 version.

Doyle's book has served as the basis for several subsequent movies. A 1999 made-for-TV film doubled as the pilot for an Australian TV series based on The Lost World. The resulting series strayed mightily from the book, but retained the characters and was quite entertaining in its own way.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

George Pal's Production of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds

The Martian machines and their force fields.
H.G. Wells purists may quibble with George Pal's 1953 production of The War of the Worlds. True enough, little remains of the novel's original plot. However, Pal and director Byron Haskin successfully balance the large-scale scope of the Earth's desperate struggle for survival with vignettes that capture the humanity of mankind. In doing so, they created one of the most influential science fiction films of the 1950s.

Gene Barry as Forrester.
Gene Barry stars as Dr. Clayton Forrester, an astro physicist from the Pacific Institute of Science and Technology, whose fishing trip is interrupted when a meteor lands in a small California town. At the meteor site, Forrester meets Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), an attractive USC library science teacher. In a classic "meet cute," she starts babbling about the great Clayton Forrester--unaware that she is talking with him.

The meteor, of course, turns out be one of many Martian spacecrafts sent as part of an epic invasion. In no time at all, cities like Paris are crumbling to the ground as the Earth's weapons prove useless against the invaders' most advanced technology. Can the Earth be saved?

The combat scenes remain impressive today with the Martians' triangular black-and-green war machines flitting over the battleground as they fire their incinerating death rays. Not surprisingly, these striking scenes earned The War of the Worlds an Oscar for Best Special Effects. It was nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Sound--and should have won the latter. It did win an award for sound from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA.

The uncredited SFX team used no computer digital technology!

A Martian hand on Robinson.
Despite its technical achievements, it's the more intimate scenes that give War of the Worlds its emotional strength. In fact, there are four that stand out for me on each viewing. Two are justly famous: (1) the scene where the priest walks fearlessly toward the aliens--Bible in hand, reciting a prayer--only to be obliterated; (2) the deserted farmhouse sequence with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, in which she comes face-to-face with one of the Martians.

The other two scenes of note are less widely praised, but equally impressive. The first occurs when, as a last resort, the U.S. military uses an atomic bomb to stop the Martians...only to watch in futility as an alien craft emerges from a cloud of debris ("Guns, tanks, bombs--they're like toys against them," says a general). The final scene I'll mention occurs near the climax when Forrester, who has been separated from Sylvia, finds her in a church as Los Angeles faces imminent destruction. With explosions lighting up the church's stained glass windows, a loud crashing sound causes everyone in the church to instinctively drop to the ground--except for Forester and Sylvia who remain standing in their embrace.

Playwright Barré Lyndon, who penned the screenplay, incorporates strong religious themes throughout the film. Examples include the scenes with the priest and in the church, the pending Armageddon, and even the narration that describes how the Martians were finally defeated.

Michael Rennie as the good alien Klaatu.
The 1950s remains the peak decade for science fiction films with bona fide classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing, Forbidden Planet, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The War of the Worlds can't top any of those four, but making it into the top 5 is an impressive achievement.

By the way, Ann Robinson reprised her role as Sylvia 36 years later in three episodes of the funky syndicated TV series War of the Worlds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why Aren't Foreign Films More Popular Among American Classic Film Fans?

The Beast from Beauty and the Beast.
The good news is that 2015 saw a renewed interest in classic foreign language films. One of my favorite classic movie bloggers, Richard Finch, created a Foreign Film Classics group on Facebook. It now boasts over 725 active members who enthusiastically share their love for international cinema. Also, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) began to regularly show foreign classics in the wee hours of Monday morning (and occasionally in prime time). TCM's selections have ranged from the widely-known (Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) to the rarely-shown (Ozu's Good Morning).

Toshiro Mifune in Sanjuro.
The bad news is that the majority of classic movie fans seldom discuss or write about foreign films. This blog is no exception. While we have occasionally written about gems like Rules of the Game and Sanjuro, we have focused far more on English-language movies. That has led to some introspection and inspired this editorial which will attempt to delve into the reasons for ignoring international cinema in the classic film community.

Peter Lorre in M.
I'd watch more foreign films if they were more easily available.  This is a valid excuse to some degree. Except for TCM or perhaps your local PBS station, you're not likely to see a foreign language film on television--especially a classic one made before, say, 1980. However, video companies like Criterion and Janus have thrived by releasing foreign classics on DVD--many of which may be available from your local library. And if that's not the case, then check out YouTube where, if you look hard enough, you can discover subtitled prints of great films like Fritz Lang's M for free.

Subtitles are distracting.  If you're watching an old print with poor quality subtitles, you might have a case. I once struggled through an awful print of Les Diaboliques in which the white subtitles were superimposed over a white table in some scenes. You couldn't read any of the dialogue! However, the quality of subtitles--to include the accuracy of the translated dialogue--has improved over the years. Typically, I am conscious of reading the subtitles for about the first five minutes of a foreign film. Then I forget that I'm reading them and it's almost like the film is in English.

Sophia looking pretty iconic.
There are no foreign film stars to compete with American icons like Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and John Wayne.  Fans of Toshiro Mifune, Jean Gabin, Marcello Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, and Yves Montand would vehemently disagree with you. And for the record, many "Hollywood stars" actually began their careers making movies in their native countries. These stars include Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Omar Sharif, and Bela Lugosi.

I'm sorry, but I'm just not into artsy-fartsy foreign fare (e.g., just what does that chess game with Death really mean?).  First, the definition of "artsy-fartsy" is subjective (yes, you can quote me on that!). Second, there are artistic films in all cultures. I know plenty of film fans unable to make it through  John Cassavetes' self-indulgent 1968 classic Faces. Second, plenty of foreign fare has no artistic pretensions, but consists solely of entertaining movies that deserve to be seen. These films span all genres, from horror (Suspiria) to Western (Death Rides a Horse) to action film (Police Story) to comedy (Shaolin Soccer).

I can't identify with the culture and/or historical background.  Well, if you're not interested in learning how the rest of the world lives, then you may have a valid reason for not watching foreign films. Personally, I'm fascinated by films set in places and periods that I know little about and will often end up doing my own research to learn more. I secretly believe that someday I'll be on Jeopardy and there'll be a "Final Jeopardy" answer about the Tokugawa shogunate--and I'll know what it is from watching the Lone Wolf and Cub movies.

If you disagree with any of this editorial, please leave a comment below. Dissenting and reinforcing opinions are always welcomed. And if you haven't watched a foreign-language film in awhile, then check one out today and show a little love for international cinema.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

MGM's Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Greer Garson and Laurence Oliver.
After viewing MGM's 1940 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, comparisons with the BBC's popular 1995 miniseries are inevitable. That's not altogether fair to the 1940 version which is much shorter than the later miniseries (two hours vs. six hours). However, the simple fact remains that MGM's Pride and Prejudice is now regarded as a very good film while the BBC version instantly became a pop culture phenomenon that still boasts a loyal following.

Garson as Elizabeth.
For those unfamiliar with Austen's 1813 classic, the plot centers around the relationship between the wealthy, snobby Mr. Darcy and the headstrong Elizabeth Bennett. She comes from a modest family (though they still have a butler) headed by the sensible Mr. Bennett. Unfortunately, Mr. Bennett does not have a male heir, meaning that the family's home will go to a clergyman named Mr. Collins upon Mr. Bennett's death. Thus, Mrs. Bennett is focused on getting her five daughters married off to gentlemen with ample financial means.

Elizabeth overhears Darcy.
To his surprise, Darcy (Laurence Olivier) finds himself attracted to the witty, elegant Elizabeth (Greer Garson) at a country ball. Yet, that doesn't dissuade him from expressing his contempt for other members of the Bennett family to a close friend--a conversation that Elizabeth overhears. As a result, Elizabeth rebuffs Darcy's invitation to dance, even though she is also interested in him. Thus begins a series of advances and retreats in the slowly-developing romance between the two.

For me, the joy of Austen's novel (and all its adaptations) is watching the feelings of Elizabeth and Darcy evolve as the plot progresses. Elizabeth knows that Darcy's assessment of her family is mostly accurate. Her mother is overwrought and obvious in her marital intentions for her daughters. Sister Mary insists on singing in public despite being tone deaf. Younger sisters Lydia and Kitty are just plain silly, chasing after army officers and getting tipsy at parties. And yet, it's one thing to acknowledge the shortfalls of one's family and another to watch as a third party scoffs at them. For his part, once he realizes that he loves Elizabeth, Darcy sets out to prove his worthiness to her--even though she has made it clear that she could never love him.

Olivier as Mr. Darcy.
Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier fare well as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, even though both are too old for the parts (Elizabeth is supposed to be 20 and Greer was then 36). It's impossible not to compare them with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth who played the couple in the BBC miniseries. Garson's performance brims with intelligence and charm, but its lacks the introspection that Ehle (born in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC) brought to it. Likewise, Olivier makes a memorable Darcy, but falls short of Firth in displaying his character's internal struggles (especially during my favorite scene--Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth).

Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins.
In my opinion, acting honors in the MGM film go to the always reliable Edmund Gwenn as Elizabeth's father, Melville Cooper as the pretentious Mr. Collins (who constantly babbles about his "esteemed patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh"), and Frieda Inescort as the haughty Ms. Bingley.

Acclaimed British noveliest Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) co-wrote the screenplay. However, credit for the excellent abridgment of Austen's novel probably belongs to Helen Jerome. Her 1935 Broadway play served as the basis for the MGM film. Incidentally, that stage play starred British actress Adrianne Allen as Elizabeth. Ms. Allen was then married to Raymond Massey.

A recent viewing of the 1940 film reminded me, though, how much of the dialogue was penned by Jane Austen. It's the author and her vivid characters, lively dialogue, and understanding of human nature that makes Pride and Prejudice a true classic. Cast it with good actors and I don't think one could go wrong--whether it's this version, the BBC one, or the 2005 adaptation with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Revenge of the Creature...or the Gill Man Visits Ocean Harbor Oceanarium

The Creature runs amok at the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium.
When the Gill Man was last glimpsed at the end of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), his limp bullet-riddled body was drifting in the water. It turns out that he somehow survived--only to be captured again and sent to a Florida aquarium where he can be studied by scientists and gawked at by tourists. It's a miserable experience for the Gill Man...except for the presence of science student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), who appears to have replaced Kay (Julie Adams) as the object of his affections.

There's not much to the plot of this sequel, which, like its predecessor, was filmed in 3D. It's primarily an excuse for a couple of nifty scenes. The first occurs when the Gill Man breaks free from his chains and climbs out of a giant tank, lumbering through the crowd as he heads to the beach. The second highlight occurs near the climax when the Creature makes an impromptu appearance at a seaside dinner club, grabs Helen, and dives off a pier.

Let no Gill Man come between John Agar and Lori Nelson.
Director Jack Arnold, who also helmed the first film, always had a flair for exciting visuals. That's the strength of this sequel. It lacks the sexual undercurrent of Creature from the Black Lagoon, with the Gill Man becoming more of a traditional monster. He does generate more sympathy this time around, but that can be attributed to the Gill Man's situation (e.g., it's sad watching him eat out of a basket like a lab rat...speaking of lab rats, Clint Eastwood has a quick unbilled role as a lab technician who almost loses a rat).

Lori with blonde hair.
John Agar and Lori Nelson do what they can with their underwritten roles. It's somewhat jarring to see the dark-haired Nelson as a blonde. Perhaps, that was an attempt to distinguish her from Julie Adams' character from the original film. Incidentally, Adams and Nelson starred as sisters in Anthony Mann's Bend of the River (1952). The two actresses became lifelong friends.

As for the Gill Man, he appeared in one last Universal picture in 1956: The Creature Walks Among Us.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Marvin Gaye, Lee Majors, and Half of the Righteous Brothers? It's "The Ballad of Andy Crocker"

Lee Majors in the title role.
After fighting for his country in Vietnam, Corporal Andy Crocker (Lee Majors) returns to his Texas hometown as a decorated war hero. The local newspaper touts his acts of bravery. His father gazes proudly at his son's medal. Strangers buy Andy drinks and offer him jobs. But all the ex-soldier wants to do is to see his girlfriend Lisa (Joey Heatherton) and work on motorcycles in his repair shop. Those memories kept him alive during his bleakest hours.

Joey Heatherton as Lisa.
First, he learns that Lisa married three months ago--around the time she stopped writing. Then, he discovers that his incompetent business partner (Jimmy Dean) has allowed their motorcycle shop to fall into financial ruin and wants to sell the property.When he tracks down Lisa, she admits she still loves him, but refuses to run away with him. She's willing to have an affair, but not leave her well-to-do husband. It turns out Lisa is pregnant.

The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969) is certainly not the first film about a veteran who returns from war and becomes disillusioned. However, it's an interesting oddity, given when it was made and who appeared in it. The U.S. was still sending troops to Vietnam in 1969 and the war dominated the nightly news. Yet, it was a subject ignored largely by filmmakers except for rare efforts like John Wayne's The Green Berets (1968) and the low-budget A Yank in Vietnam (1964).

The plight of Vietnam veterans was explored more frequently on television. Glenn Corbett, who joined Route 66 in its third season, played a Vietnam veteran. His first episodes dealt with his challenges with finding a new place in society. It essentially paved the way for The Ballad of Andy Crocker, which was broadcast as an ABC Movie of the Week. According to Lee Goldberg's reference book Unsold Television Pilots, the Lee Majors TV film was intended as a pilot for a TV series called Corporal Crocker. One can only assume that the concept would have been for Andy to travel the U.S. and have various adventures (along the lines of...Route 66).

Marvin Gaye as David.
The unusual cast in The Ballad of Andy Crocker includes three famous singers: soul music legend Marvin Gaye, Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers (he sang the lead on "Unchained Melody"), and country singer Jimmy Dean. Gaye and Hatfield only have a couple of scenes and neither one makes an impression. It was Hatfield's only film appearance. Gaye also co-starred in the feature film Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), which ironically was about another Vietnam vet (only this time, an ex-Green Beret finds his girlfriend dead and seeks revenge on a biker gang). As for Jimmy Dean, he had already appeared as a regular on the Daniel Boone TV series and would later appear in films like Diamonds Are Forever.

Actress Joey Heatherton had a modest singing career, too, though she wouldn't have a hit record until three years after The Ballad of Andy Crocker. She released her creatively-titled The Joey Heatherton Album in 1972. Her only Top 40 hit, a cover of Ferlin Husky's "Gone," peaked at #24 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

Actor-writer Stuart Margolin.
The Ballad of Andy Crocker was written by actor Stuart Margolin, who is probably best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of the conniving Angel on The Rockford Files. Margolin boasted some musical roots, too, having co-written several songs. He even released a 1980 album called And the Angel Sings. Margolin has a small role as a hippy in The Ballad of Andy Crocker and also penned the lyrics to the title song which plays excessively throughout the movie.

The Ballad of Andy Crocker is a predictable film, but it has its heart in the right place and probably provides Lee Majors with his best film role. But the main reason to see it is for its then-timely topic and for the rare opportunity to see some music greats try their hands at another medium.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Gill-Man's Debut

Destined to join Universal's pantheon
of monsters.
Universal Studios was the “Home of Horror” from 1931 to 1946, but its Gothic monsters were relegated strictly to appearances alongside Abbott & Costello by the 1950s. There are many theories for the decline of Universal’s horror movies (e.g., the real-life horrors of World War II, uneven quality, genre fatigue, etc.). Whatever the reason, science fiction cinema had surpassed the horror genre and Universal wanted to recapture its audience. It got off to a good start with It Came from Outer Space (1953), a well-regarded alien creature saga based on a story by Ray Bradbury.

The following year, Universal released Creature from the Black Lagoon and launched the career of its most famous monster since the Wolf-Man. Like It Came from Outer Space, Creature was filmed in 3D and directed by Jack Arnold. However, the idea for a movie about a human-like amphibian creature is attributed to producer William Alland. There are various origin stories, but the most commonly accepted is that Alland heard about the legend of a “man-fish” in the Amazon during a dinner party.

The Creature's hand appears.
His film kicks off with an archaeologist discovering a fossil of a webbed hand in the upper regions of the Amazon. Focusing on the fossil, he fails to see a living webbed hand emerge from the murky water and disappear back into it. (The stinger music that accompanies each appearance of the Creature is very effective, if overused; there is no credited composer.)

Back at the Instituto de Biologia, wealthy Mark Williams (Richard Denning) is impressed enough with this new find to sponsor an expedition to unearth the rest of the skeleton. He takes along Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), a pretty colleague, and her fiance, ichthyologist David Reed (Richard Carlson).

Julie Adams as Kay.
Tracking the fossil remains to a hidden lagoon, the scientists discover the Gill Man and capture him. He soon escapes, though, and the hunters become the quarry when the humans find their exit from the lagoon blocked with a dam. It also becomes apparent that the Creature's main interest in the humans is Kay.

This straightforward plot serves as the framework for one of cinema's more unusual love triangles. Naturally, I'm not talking about the friction between Mark and David over Kay's affections. Though Mark may be interested in her, Kay ignores him. The real triangle is between Kay, David, and the Gill Man. Kay certainly shows no affection for the Gill Man, but he does intrigue her and she is quick to note that he never hurts her. One might call their relationship one of mutual curiosity.

The hand reaches out to touch Kay.
It's an intriguing one, no doubt, fueled by the film's most famous sequence. When Kay makes an ill-advised decision to go for a swim, the Creature spies her submerged form (quite fetching in a one-piece white bathing suit). As Kay swims along the surface, the Creature--his face looking up at her--glides underneath her, mirroring her movements. It's a stunning vision of erotic underwater ballet. This classic scene is only briefly described in the script, so most of the credit belongs to director Jack Arnold, who often infused his films with a stunning visual or two. (Another brilliant scene is a close-up of the Creature's hand as he hesitantly reaches out to touch Kay's foot as she paddles in the water.)

Ben Chapman played the Creature on land with Ricou Browning performing the underwater scenes. Considering he was wearing a molded sponge rubber suit, Browning's Creature is amazingly graceful and expressive. There were two different suits. The one used for the underwater scenes was painted bright yellow to create a contrast against the dark water (the film was shot in black-and-white). Although many people provided input to the design of the Creature suits, most film historians recognize Millicent Patrick's contributions as the most significant. According to Bill Warren in his excellent reference book Keep Watching the Skies!, the Creature's body was inspired by the Oscar statuette and its head was modeled after Anne Sheridan.

The mist gives this shot near the climax a Gothic feel.

By the way, the Creature is never referred as "the Creature" in the film. (Actually, an earlier title for the film was simply The Black Lagoon). It's none other than Whit Bissell--one of Hollywood's busiest supporting actors--who first labels the Creature "the Gill Man." It's a nickname that would stick.

Creature from the Black Lagoon was a huge hit for Universal and inspired two sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955), which was also shot in 3D, and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The Creature also made cameo appearances in other films (e.g., Mad Monster Party?) and on television (e.g., Uncle Gilbert in The Munsters) in the ensuing years. There have been numerous plans to mount a big budget remake, including a proposed 2015 reboot with Scarlett Johansson rumored as a cast member (not playing the Creature!).

When we interviewed the luminous Julie Adams at the Cafe in 2013, she noted the enduring popularity of Creature from the Black Lagoon: "The astonishing afterlife of this film never ceases to amaze me. I'm proud that it has entertained so many movie fans for so long."

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Movie-TV Connection Game (June 2016)

What do Ida and Jodie have in common?
For those new to this game, you will be given a pair or trio of films or performers. Your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. The Scarlet Claw and The List of Adrian Messenger.

2. Cry Wolf (the Errol Flynn pic) and Fellini's La Strada.

3. Errol Flynn and Peter O'Toole.

4. Richard Burton and Richard Harris.

5. Richard Harris and Thank God, It's Friday (this one is a little loose).

6. Star Trek: The Next Generation and the TV series The Prisoner.

7. Green Acres and Animal Farm (an easy one).

8. The Plague Dogs and Disney's animated Robin Hood.

9. Ida Lupino and Jodie Foster.

10. Joan Collins and Dorothy Lamour.

11. Eleanor Parker and Joan Collins.

12. Guy Williams and Van Williams.

13. Michael York and Gene Kelly.

14. Burt Lancaster and James Stewart.

15. Robert Mitchum and Patrick McGoohan.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

He That Troubleth His Own House Shall "Inherit the Wind"

Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.
Based on the celebrated stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, this 1960 film adaptation is a fictionalized account of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. In that landmark case, renowned attorney Clarence Darrow defended John Scopes, a Tennessee schoolteacher prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. William Jennings Bryan, a former Presidential nominee and Secretary of State assisted the district attorney. In the play and film, the names have been changed, although opposing lawyers Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) are clearly based on Darrow and Bryan.

Dick York played the defendant.
Tracy and March, both in the twilight of their distinguished acting careers, give powerhouse performances. March portrays Brady as an overzealous evangelist determined to wear down detractors by the sheer strength of his convictions and the power of his voice. However, he is also a man clearly torn by common decency (represented by his wife) and his overwhelming drive to win a last big case. When the local minister whips a crowd into a lynching frenzy, it is Brady who calms them down. Yet, the very next day, he betrays the trust of a young woman in the courtroom.

Gene Kelly in his best dramatic role.
Tracy’s Henry Drummond is the opposite of the flamboyant Brady. His goal is to preserve the law—its very consistency, which is threatened by unreasonable state statutes like the one that prevents a schoolteacher from teaching Darwin's theory. Grim, but as determined in his low-key way as Brady, Drummond represents the moral center of the film (Brady is the Conservative and Gene Kelly’s cynical reporter the Liberal).

The other major character in Inherit the Wind is the town of Hillsboro. Director Stanley Kramer expertly shows the town’s transformation from quiet hamlet to frenzied carnival, complete with side shows, hucksters, and a ferris wheel. Even the courtroom is a circus, a media circus with reporters typing and sending reports on telephones during the trial.

Kramer stages these courtroom theatrics with an astonishing attention to detail. The stifling Southern heat hangs heavily over the room—people actually sweat…profusely. Kramer carefully positions his camera to capture contrasting actions in the same frame. It’s a textbook example of how to adapt a stage play to film, although a couple of talky scenes could have been trimmed.

The film's title comes from Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” Ironically, it is Brady that paraphrases this moral, cautioning that one can be “overzealous to save that which you hope to save, so nothing is left but emptiness.”

Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The film also earned Academy Award nods for screenplay, editing, and cinematography--though it didn't win in any category. The play has been adapted for television three times with Drummond and Brady being played by: Melvyn Douglas and Ed Begley in 1965; Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas in 1988; and Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott in 1999. On Broadway, the roles were originated in 1955 by Paul Muni as Drummond and Begley as Brady. Muni had to drop out temporarily due to cataracts and was replaced by Melvyn Douglas.