Inherit the Wind (1960): Kramer’s Courtroom Drama Starring Tracy and March

“Its all about the Monkey Trial that rocked America,” read the ad for Stanley Kramer’s intelligent and verbose courtroom drama, Inherit the Wind.

In this version, B.T. Cates (Dick York), an instructor, is taken to court for teaching the theories of Darwin, which is contrary to the state law. The famous lawyer Drummond (Spencer Tracy) is then called to defend Cates. The politician Matthew Brady (Frederic March) appears for the prosecution.

There is debate both in and out of court between a literal interpretation of the Bible and the scientific theories. The jury finds Cates guilty, but the judge imposes only a small fine. Drummond says he will ask for an appeal. Brady, suffering remorse and denied opportunity to vindicate himself, dies of a heart attack in the courtroom.

Bryan and Darrow, renamed Brady and Drummnd in the movie, are played by Frederic March and Spencer Tracy. These two vet stars make the battle between emotionalism and logic fascinating to behold.

As the Great Commoner, Bryan, defeated three times as Presidential candidate and Fundamentalist believer in the Bible, struts and squirms as a self-righteous man who had rarely done any clear thinking in his life.

Tracy, with tousled white mane and sweaty shirt, has the saltier role of the great civil-rights champion, who feints and parries his opponent.

Newsweek wrote: Stanley Kramer’s latest exercise in ‘Thinking Big’ is not on the same physical scale as his last one, on the Beach, in which he not only shook the world but ended it, yet the result is more stirring.

“The acting battle of the year, heavyweight division Tracy, who gives a classic demonstration of how to speak worlds even when silent and almost motionless, vs. March, who by contrast achieves a kind of magnificence of overacting.”

“Inherit the Wind” is “a rare combination, a thoughtful, honest movie that is a grand show besides.

Director Kramer recalled: “All this talk about pictures about subjects is nonsense. I dont say this is going to be controversial! I say, this is a good story. Those two guys really began to feel their oats, and the crew was fascinated. There was a point when I couldnt hear what Tracy was saying. I said, ‘Spence, its taken me six months to write that line and I couldnt understand what you said. Tracy snapped back, Its taken me 25 years to learn how to read a line like that and now you want me to recite it. As a result of things like that, each of these two old hams had an audience to play to every day.”

Oscar Alert

The film was nominated for four Oscars:

Actor: Spencer Tracy

Screenplay: Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith

Cinematography (b/w): Ernest Laszlo

Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson

Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

Burt Lancaster won the Best Actor for “Elmer Gantry,” which also won Screenplay for Richard Brooks.

Freddie Francis won the Cinematography Award for Sons and Lovers.

Daniel Mandell received Best Editing for The Apartment.


Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy)
Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March)
E. K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly)
Mrs. Brady (Florence Eldridge)
Bertram T. Cates (Dick York)
Rachel Brown (Donna Anderson)
Judge (Harry Morgan)


Release Date: November 1960
Running time: 127 Minutes.

Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Nathan Douglas and Harold Smith, based a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Camera: Ernest Laszlo
Editor: Frederic Knudtson
Music: Ernest Gold
Production Design: Rudolph Sternad
Costumes: Joe King