A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
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What's the story?
In this classic, science teacher Bert Cates (Dick York) is jailed for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in the fundamentalist community of Hillsboro, Tennessee. The town is caught in the national spotlight when two legal heavyweights take on the case: former Presidential candidate Matthew Harrison Brady (Frederic March) for the prosecution, and ACLU founder Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) for the defense. Brady and Drummond, known in real life as William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, mesmerize crowds as they wrestle with the still timely issue of the separation of church and state.
Is it any good?
INHERIT THE WIND is everything that a legal drama ought to be, but deft comic touches and a clear storyline make this sophisticated film accessible to kids. The lawyers are the heroes in this exciting retelling of the watershed trial, bolstered by impressive performances by Tracy and March. Each character eventually questions his beliefs. Brady's narrow interpretation of the Christian Bible is stretched to include modern science; the atheistic Drummond ends up reconsidering his doubts about God. But don't worry about heavy-duty moralizing, this courtroom story is surprisingly light, with a wry sense of humor. As curiosity seekers flood Hillsboro during the trial, residents imagine all sorts of ways of cashing in, each more preposterous than the next.
Because Inherit the Wind is about what teachers are allowed to teach, the film speaks to younger viewers more directly than an adult might suspect. Unlike most courtroom dramas, this movie refuses to reduce complicated issues into simplistic ones. It also shows that it is worthwhile to fight for your beliefs. As Drummond explains, the only pathetic person is the one who is too cynical to believe in anything, a worthy message to offer to kids and adults alike.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the advantages and limitations of using movies to dramatize historical events. Can movies tell the story of events in ways that other media, such as books or radio, can't? How much of an event can you show in a couple of hours and how do you decide what to leave out? Do you think that the real lawyers arguing this case were swayed slightly towards the others' positions by the end of the trial, as is portrayed here? Or is this simply a device for tying up the story in a neat bow?
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