To Think or Inherit The Wind?

 

Directed by Stanley Kramer, Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 US Scopes Monkey Trial which resulted in  John T Scopes’ conviction, for teaching Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to a high school science class; contrary to Tennessee State Law.

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Spencer Tracy.

In the film, the characters of Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck, correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Scopes, and H L Menchen, respectively. However, the original joint playwrights – Robert  E Lee, and Jerome Lawrence – state in a note at the opening of the play, on which the film is based, that it was not meant to be an historical account, and that many events were substantially altered or invented for the Hollywood screen.

Playwright Jerome Lawrence also explained, in a 1996 interview, that the play’s main purpose was to criticize McCarthyism, and defend intellectual freedom.  According to Lawrence, ‘we used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control. The play is not about science versus religion, it is about the right to think!’

The play was first seen in1955, but the Spenceer Tracy Hollywood movie, had its World Premiere in England, at the Astoria Theatre – in London’s West End – on July 7, 1960. With a glittering supporting cast, which also included Frederick March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Donna Anderson and Harry Morgan, it has now found its way into film noir history, but why? And, why do you think I am also using this great film as my own parable, in order to debunk certain views inherent in Islamic fundamentalism?

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Spencer Tracy and Frederick March as the presecuter being cross examined.

In the film, and frustrated by the court’s refusal to accept the global scientific and secular view of Darwins theory, Spencer Tracy is forced to turn to the very book which the citizens of this bigoted Tennessee town apparently accept, which they believe actually defines their Christian beliefs, and their received explanation, for the beginnings of mankind on earth. Consequently, Tracy is forced to refer exclusively to The Holy Bible in his presentation, as evidence.

The whole court charade is a version of holding and hitting – in prize fighting terms – and whichever way Tracy approaches the court; in the defence of the school teacher, it is ruled as inadmissible, due to the prevailing Tennessee State Law. Finally, in exasperation, he entices the ever evangelizing and populist state prosecutor, into the witness box, as a witness for the defence.

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Known as The Monkey Trial in the American press.

Because of his profoundly narrow minded puritan views – and the Frederick March prosecutors self professed expertise on the bible – the cross examination, using quotations from Genesis, is hysterical. Occasionally, the prosecutor seems to become a little confused, when certain doubts apparently cross his noble  mind, during Spencer Tracy’s questioning.  Probing him about who begat who, and why there seemed at times to be three people around when there were only supposed to be two, he has no answer. To the final question, which was: if the earth stopped tuning for a day, how come it didn’t disintegrate? Offering blind faith as his reason, he finally tells Tracy, that it must simply be the will of God.

‘If you had your way,’ Spencer Tracy remarks to Frederick March the prosecutor, ‘we would all be marching backwards, into the 16th Century.’

In the end, the jury finding the plaintive guilty as charged, the judge fines the erring schoolteacher a paltry $100, and the defence immediately announces that it is going straight to the appeals court. But by then, the injustice has been revealed, and even the narrow minded citizens seem to have generally accepted the absurdity of The Book of Genesis, which now languishes in abandonment.

Islamic fundamentalism is a bit like this, and the hapless followers of extreme Islamic cults are expected to believe the exact text of the Koran, and to confirm their adherence to it, by obeying their leaders to the point of death, or at least by causing death. I have no doubt that the newly enlightened population of Tennessee would largely agree with me, if I were to tell them that this level of ignorance and prejudice – to be found in the ranks of ISIS – is the scourge of all mankind, the world, and civilization in general. But, that would depend on them knowing where the Middle East actually was, geography never having been one of America’s strong points. Meanwhile, in common with most foxy politicians, Mr. Trump is playing to the crowds and their fear of homegrown terrorism.

To throw your life away, on the promise of a guaranteed trip to heaven, in the company of twenty or so virgins, does seem to be a little medieval. And Papal Bulls apart, or taking part in a bloody crusade in the name of Christendom, even thirteenth century Northern Europeans were getting a little tired of these antics as a means of salvation. It was far better, and far less expensive, to crawl on ones hands and knees to Santiago De Compostella, or perhaps to live a virtuous and meaningful life, as an acceptable alternative.

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In my most recent murder mystery novel, called The Dance of Dimitrios, I explore the absurdities of Islamic Fundamentalism and the people behind it. I succeed in surrounding the subject with intrigue and conspiracy, but in the end it turns out to be about money – not faith, nor religion – but victimization, greed and power. One of these days, if I ever get the opportunity, I will ask an ISIS Mullah a very simple question – ‘Do you actually believe in God?’

 

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