Theatre: Inherit the Wind

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.
Proverbs 11:29, The Bible

Originally a 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, then filmed in 1960 (and adapted for television three times between 1965 and 1999), Inherit The Wind is a very (very) fictionalized account of the "Scopes Monkey Trial," a 1925 Tennessee court case which revolved around the teaching of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in public schools. The whole thing was actually a publicity stunt by the backwater town of Dayton, TN, leading to the trial being sensationalized beyond belief. It kind of went Off the Rails from there, bringing many (at the time) 'incontrovertible' tenets of American thought, such as a literal interpretation of The Bible, to question.

The play revolves primarily around Bert Cates, a schoolteacher in the small, "simple" town of Hillsboro. Bert is arrested for teaching the theory of evolution in his class in violation of a state law, and the film opens with him being hauled bodily out of his classroom by the police. The town's mayor initially wants to keep the whole affair quiet, and many of the more prominent members of the community urge him to drop the matter entirely. It was all going to happen that way until Matthew Harrison Brady — the analogue of William Jennings Bryan — announces that he's coming to Hillsboro to assist the prosecution. Cates writes to a newspaper in Baltimore for assistance, and is presented with Henry Drummond (in the part of Clarence Darrow) as his defense attorney, and E. K. Hornbeck (playing H. L. Mencken) as a chronicler.

The film version was well received, directed by Stanley Kramer with Spencer Tracy as Drummond, Fredric March as Brady, Dick York as Cates, Harry Morgan as the judge, and (surprisingly) Gene Kelly as the all-snarking, never-dancing Hornbeck. It takes a few more liberties from the real trial than the play does, but also incorporates more of the trial transcript; today, most people thinking of the real trial instead remember details from the film. The film also has the distinction of being the first in-flight movie, according to The Other Wiki.

Speaking of what the other wiki says, the play was intended as a criticism of of the anti-Communist hysteria of The Fifties. However, with the newly-reborn debate on evolution versus creationism, the film is often shown at face value without the McCarthyism subtext being considered. And it still works beautifully.


This work includes examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: Brady's more interested in preaching than prosecuting and his religious devotion is more or less a way to be famous, compensating for all the times he's failed to become president. In contrast, the town accuses Drummond of taking the case solely to denounce religion, though Drummond is an agnostic who has nothing against religion save for the fundamentalists' literal interpretation of the Bible.
    • The ending, by showing Drummond's familiarity with Biblical passages and Hornbeck's disgusted reaction, shows that the former is quite familiar with and respectful of the Bible, having taken up the case not out of hostility to religion but because of his devotion to freedom of thought. Earlier, Drummond makes this plain: "The Bible is a book. It's a good book, but it is not the only book."
  • Anti-Villain: Brady and Hornbeck.
  • As the Good Book Says: Many instances as would be expected. Brady quotes Solomon's inherit the wind passage with great effect to defend Rachel from her father's condemnation.
  • Badass Pacifist: Drummond is an aging man who takes a lot heat from everybody, but he never loses his cool demeanor and instead turns words into weapons to defend his cause with a respect-worthy dignity. All in the middle of a hostile town where death threats are matter-of-factly sung.
  • Big Eater: Brady; yet another way of coping with his inferiority complex after losing three bids for president.
    • This was also true for his real life counterpart Bryan as well.
  • Charles Darwin: The Big Bad and the Big Good, depending on the camp, on account of being the historical proponent of evolution.
  • Collapsed Mid-Speech: Brady is giving his closing speech, which his old and weary voice tries and fails to make sound passionate. After the microphone is taken away from him, he desperately tries to continue, but suddenly falls silent and collapses. As he is carried out of the courtroom in a semi-conscious state, he strangely starts speaking on being inaugurated as President. He dies offstage soon after.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: It has nothing to do with inheritance or wind, but a great deal to do with the idea of a community tearing itself apart. The complete quotation, which comes from the Book of Proverbs, is recited by Brady when Reverend Brown turns on his own daughter:
    "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind:
    and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart."
  • Cool Teacher: The implication is Cates is one and well-respected by his students. There is even a switch moment when Drummond and Hornbeck see a group of young men staring at them and approach, ask if they are there to help Mr. Cates, then ask if they need help carrying their luggage.
  • Courtroom Antic: A lot of them. Badgering witnesses, limiting the defense's options by claiming areas of science not relevant to the case at hand.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hornbeck, as an Expy of H. L. Mencken, the famously sarcastic "Sage of Baltimore".
    "Darwin was wrong. Man's still an ape."
  • Deep South: A very, very deep and unenlightened 1925 Tennessee.
  • Eureka Moment: When Hornbeck jokingly notes the only book and area of expertise Brady and the prosecutor would permit to be allowed in the court is the Bible, Drummond realizes his next attack should be on the literal interpretation of the Bible and breakdown Brady's view.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Brady may be a self-aggrandizing religious opportunist, but he is still the one who publicly tells Rachel's hateful pastor father, with his usual eloquence and biblical knowledge, to stop condemning his own daughter.
  • Famed In-Story: Brady and Drummond are respectively the champions of tradition and secularism in the United States.
  • Friendly Enemy: Drummond and Brady are good friends outside the courtroom, as were their real life counterparts. Several We Used to Be Friends remarks are also pronounced.
  • The Fundamentalist: Brady and Brown.
  • Greek Chorus: Hornbeck's function; he even speaks in verse.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: The plot.
  • Heat Wave: The characters are soaked with sweat and most of the courtroom audience are fanning themselves with hand-held fans, which display in-universe Product Placement ("Courtesy of X's Funeral Service"), a reflection of the tradition of funeral homes giving out free fans as promotional items. Some people even collect them.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: It's implied in the film that Drummond and Brady were this in their youth. Drummond and Hornbeck are also this until the finish when Drummond finally tires of Hornbeck's cynicism.
  • Holier Than Thou: Reverend Brown.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Hornbeck.
    Hornbeck: Ah, Henry! Why don't you wake up? Darwin was wrong. Man's still an ape. His creed's still a totem pole. When he first achieved the upright position, he took a look at the stars — thought they were something to eat. When he couldn't reach them, he decided they were groceries belonging to a bigger creature. And that's how Jehovah was born.
    Drummond: I wish I had your worm's-eye view of history...
  • Hollywood Law: There are so, so many instances of this (however much of it's actually Truth in Television (the entire trial was staged).
    • Also, Brady badgering Rachel (though that may have been allowed because the town adores him).
    • This is a minor one, but in the play, Rachel goes up to the stand from the audience. A major no-no.
    • One example is actually removed from the play. The judge intentionally and cynically screwed up the sentencing procedure to get the result thrown out on a technicality (the jury were the ones supposed to decide the amount of fine, not him) thus allowing the Tennessee Supreme Court to avoid the constitutional issue entirely and thus prevent the overturn of the law.
  • Hypocrite: The town and Reverend Brown believe themselves to be good Christians for following the Bible. They fail to realize one ought to forgive a man his transgressions, not sing in a mob to hang the man from an apple tree.
  • Irony: When Brady gives his final address after the trial is ended, the majority of the few people who are really listening to him with sympathy are his enemies.
  • Jerkass:
    • The fanatical Reverend Brown.
    • Hornbeck goes too far with his cynicism when he refuses to show due respect after the death of Brady at the end of the movie.
    • The members of the mob who chant death threats against Drummond and Cates.
  • The Judge: Judge Mel Coffey.
  • Kirk Summation: A variation since the speech is the fight itself. Drummond deconstructs Brady as a self-proclaimed prophet incapable of accepting any view or position but his own.
  • Large Ham: Brady is practically made of ham.
  • Law Procedural
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Rachel Brown. Not literally a mad scientist, obviously.
  • Memetic Mutation: In-universe by the mob.
    • The song "Give me that old time religion" changes to include the line "If it's good enough for Brady, it's good enough for me."
    • The Battle Hymn of the Republic is morphed into a death threat towards Cates and Drummond.
  • Mind Rape: What Drummond eventually (and inadvertently) does to Brady, signified by his Heroic BSOD / Villainous Breakdown depending on the interpretation. Also somewhat in Brady's brutal cross-examination of Rachel.
  • Moment Killer: Meeker when Rachel and Bert are sharing a passionate hug.
    Cates: Rachel...love me. [They hug]
    Meeker: [Entering with a broom] I gotta sweep.
  • Penultimate Outburst: Drummond's brush with a contempt charge.
  • Prayer of Malice: Reverend Brown delivered a fiery sermon praying God will damn Cates to Hell for teaching "evil-lution" and later a mob crowd uses a hymn's tune to claim they want to hang Cates and Drummond from a sour apple tree, because their God is right.
  • Pun: Evil-ution.
  • Punch Clock Villain: One interpretation of Brady.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Half the play consists of these.
  • Ripped from the Headlines
  • Roman Clef: Henry Drummond = Clarence Darrow, Matthew Harrison Brady = William Jennings Bryan, E.K. Hornbeck = H.L. Mencken and Bertram Cates = John Scopes.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Played with.
  • Sinister Minister: Reverend Jeremiah Brown. Okay, a little bit.
  • Smug Snake: Brady, in court only, and Hornbeck.
  • Society Is to Blame: Name-checked. Drummond is an expy of the Real Life Trope Codifier.
  • That Was Objectionable:
    • Most of the challenges are well-grounded and reasoned, but Drummond indulges once in a simple "Objection, objection, objection!"
    • Drummond complains about Brady being addressed as Colonel, as this honorary treatment makes Brady appear superior. The judge concedes the point and Drummond is made temporary honorary Colonel.
  • Title Drop: As stated above, the title comes from a verse of the Book of Proverbs. During the play, Brady quotes the verse to Reverend Brown after he gets too overzealous and damns his own daughter to hell, effectively shutting him up and causing a My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Hornbeck, in his own view.
    Now don't worry, little Eva. I may be rancid butter, but I'm on your side of the bread.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: "We'll hang Bert Cates [and Drummond] from a sour apple tree..."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Deliberately dramatized from the actual trial, which was a hoax and a publicity stunt designed to put Dayton, TN back on the map. Clarence Darrow had announced publicly that he would defend, pro bono, anyone who was arrested for teaching evolution in a state where it had been outlawed. Scopes agreed to claim to have taught evolution and be tried, though nobody could prove that he had actually taught it (he did use a textbook with evolution in it, but all science teachers used that text). Likewise, Bryan eagerly jumped on the bandwagon despite not having practiced law for 36 years by that point. The teacher on "trial" also never spent any time in jail, instead only receiving a fine that was ultimately waived by the judge.
    • Brady is shown as totally and willfully ignorant of Darwin's book and evolution in general. In the actual case Bryan quoted parts of it from memory. Cherry-picked quotes completely out of context, but definitely not total ignorance.
    • Darrow was actually more anti-religious and atheistic than is portrayed in the play, where that role falls to H. L. Mencken's expy Hornbeck.
    • Bryan, like Brady, was called to testify as an "expert" on the Bible. This was not, however, due to his claims of actual expertise (he claimed no such thing), but because of his theology. He embraced literal interpretation because he felt a "democratic" religion required an interpretation of the scripture that anyone could make sense of, not just a handful of experts. Given his views, he could not decline on the basis of lacking sufficient expertise.
  • Villainous Breakdown: All antagonist characters receive this.
    • Rev. Brown gets so fanatical that he damns his daughter to Hell, which also counts as a Moral Event Horizon.
    • Brady loses it in court and starts yelling the names of all the books in the Old Testament even though no one is listening to him anymore. The breakdown continues to the next day and up to his death. As he dies, all the pent-up speeches he was to make if elected President finally come out. This may also count as a Heroic BSOD.
    • Hornbeck, previously a Deadpan Snarker with no real emotional attachment to anything, gets really pissed off when Drummond chews him out for insulting Brady after his death. He even slips up in insulting Drummond, calling him an "atheist who believes in God!" Er, Hornbeck, Drummond is an agnostic, not an atheist, remember? And agnostics can be either theist or atheist.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: When Brady is told by the townsfolk that they all voted for him three times, Brady quips that he trusts it was in three separate elections.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: Attorney Henry Drummond tells a story about a rocking horse he wanted when he was a child. It was far too expensive for his family to get for him, but his father scrimped and saved and managed to purchase the rocking horse for Drummond as a Christmas present. And the first time Drummond got on it to ride, it fell apart from dry rot. The Horse looked shiny, new and wonderful on the outside, but was really rotten to the core. This is a metaphor for his view on the fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible. The scrimping and saving, and the depressiveness of the realization, might also be part of the analogy, respectively standing for the hardship and hopes stored up in the struggle for salvation, and the possible overwhelming sadness that comes from realizing that work was wasted and those hopes false if it turns out they were.
  • Welcome to Hell: Hornbeck's first line to Drummond upon the latter's arrival in Hillsboro.
  • White and Grey Morality: Hornbeck and Brady are [1]s, Rev. Brown is a fanatical jerkass, but everyone is more or less doing what they think is right.
  • Women Are Wiser: In the film, Sarah Brady is the only character who can see things from everyone's point of view. In the play, Rachel shows signs of becoming this by the end.
  • Worthy Opponent: Drummond and Brady, who explicitly says so.
  • You Cannot Kill an Idea: Works both ways. The Fundamentalists do their spiteful best to "kill" the concept of evolution because, for some, they fear science will come and "kill" their literal view of the Bible.


Alternative Title(s):

Inherit The Wind