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Scope's Monkey Trial alias Inherit the Wind

Updated on September 20, 2014

Scope's Monkey Trial 1925

In the tiny town of Dayton, Tennessee, a young educator was accused of teaching the theory of evolution to his high school students. The theory was first introduced by Charles Darwin who wrote that man evolved from a common ancestor. Common theory claims this happened almost 4 billion years ago.

This teacher was 24 year old John Thomas Scopes, a football coach and first year teacher who was actually a substitute teacher in the classroom. The accused was brought to trial in 1925 and the nation instantly took notice. The press heightened the intensity given the trial with its headlines of The Scopes Money Trial.

The defense team consisted of five attorneys including the legendary Clarence Darrow. The prosecution consisted of eight attorneys including three-time presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan's home town of Salem, Illinois was also where Scopes graduated high school. Bryan actually gave the commencement address at Scopes' graduation ceremony.

There was a media frenzy that included over 200 reporters from all over the world. The trial ended on July 21, 1925 with a finding of guilty for Mr. Scopes and a fine of $100. The verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality.

Several years later, it was learned that Mr. Scopes never taught evolution in his classroom, but instead had been maneuvered by a local group of men eager for publicity for their town into agreeing to participate in a trial financed by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of the Butler Act which prohibited the teaching of human evolution.

Inherit the Wind 1960

The motion picture industry got it right when they cast Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow and Frederick March as William Jennings Bryan. If you like good dialogue in a film, you will cherish the ongoing exchanges between Darrow and Bryan. If you like action movies, you may be bored since there is no physical action and the entire movie is filmed in the courtroom.

For me, this is the greatest representation of pure intelligent and sensational dialogue ever brought to the screen. And, it is done so using two of the greatest actors of all time as the presenters of this spell binding exchange between two giants of the free world at that time.

Darrow, one of the finest litigators in American history is slowly and deliberately maneuvering his way through passages of the Bible as he questions the jittery, fast talking Bryan, a man outspoken for his resistance against the teaching of evolution and summoned to the stand as an expert on the Bible. His questions to Bryan continue to build up a resistance until Bryan finally looks like a man who has been beaten and humbled to the point at which he can not even respond without mumbling.

Darrow's undaughting questions about the Bible resulted in answers that in the end made Bryan look ridiculous and brought laughter from the courtroom. In the film, Bryan began to ramble and everyone sat back and let him do so until the man fell to the floor and died. In truth, he died 5 days later.

The exchange between the two men is profound, humorous, sad, engaging, educational and pathetic and it moves you to the point that you feel as though you are sitting in that courtroom and sweating just as Bryan sweats. The performances by both Tracy and March were amazing and brought an Academy Award nomination to Tracy and in my opinion should have brought one to March.

Check out this film. It is a brilliant rendition of partial truth regarding the State of Tennessee versus John Scopes.


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