MacCarthyism Effect on Hollywood: Inherit the Wind

Inherit the Wind

Inherit the Wind was filmed in 1960 by Stanley Kramer, producer of High Noon, and the script had been written by Harold Smith and Nedrick Young (although in the movie he appears as Nathan E. Douglas). This film was based on the play with the same title written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee in 1950. These two men were familiar with the so-called “monkey trial”, for that was the name that the historical events which occurred in 1925 took. Lawrence and Lee saw a metaphor between the current situation developing with McCarthyism and the trial.

Inherit the Wind is the story of a school teacher who was put on trial for teaching evolution in school. The press covered this event and as the situation could not be contained, the atmosphere was chaotic. The Tennessee state law forbade teaching Darwin’s theory and so that is how everything began. Although the authors of the play have stated that even if the trial is based on historical facts, the story is completely fictional. The names were changed, Clarence Darrow became Henry Drummond and William Jennings Bryan was transformed into Matthrew Harrison Brady. What they actually wanted to denounce through this film was the lack of intellectual freedom, under McCarthyism, people were denied their right to think, the HUAC was not trying to control people’s mind, they would simply erase what they did not want people to think (Communist ideas) and would move on with the next victim. In this film, religious people are afraid that their beliefs are so vulnerable they did not want them to be confronted to different points of view which could destroy them. If someone’s values preclude them from watching movies or reading some books, that is their problem, what they do not have the right to do is to make everyone else stop doing it.

Nedrick Young was called to speak before the HUAC in 1953, it is after that year when he began to change his name and use alias to sign scripts so he could still earn money out of his talent. He was apparently quite aggressive towards the committee. “I will probably refuse to answer any questions from a committee that refuses to confront me with a prosecuting attorney, which is the oldest right in the United States. Why don’t you say which proofs you have against me?” The bold answer of the witness made the public laugh, and it probably made the HUAC feel uncomfortable. He mentioned the First Amendment when they inquired if he supported the Communist Party “by answering your question, I would grant you the right to ask it, which I will not do”. Young was doing the same thing the Hollywood Ten had done a few years before, which gained Young their respect among them when they were interviewed about Nedrick Young’s interview. From 1951, uncooperative witnesses had to resort to the Fifth Amendment, which Young did, infuriating Jackson, who for a moment was unable to speak because of the rage. The screenwriter commented that Jackson was on his way to Fascism, to which he answered “I prefer to go that way than being a slave and a footman from the Communist Party”. Young mocked him for recognizing his sympathies for Fascists. Jackson intended to cover it up by blending Fascism and Communism, but the harm had already been done. (Humphries, pp.168)

The review published by Bowsley Crowther in The New York Times in 1960 does not refer to anything out of the common, it mentions its clear connection on the freedom of ideas, but this topic could be connected to many things, so it was not immediately linked to Communism. In fact, it can be assumed that the filmmakers refer to Hollywood’s situation because of who is writing and who is directing. (Kramer as it has already been mentioned, preferred to support the freedom of the people from a distance; the moment it jeopardised his job, the situation changed). Crowther mentions the two main actor’s fantastic interpretation with the help of the consistent characters they were interpreting. He comments on the make up and direction of the movie, but makes no comment concerning MacCarthyism. By the beginning of the 60s it is true that some of the Hollywood blacklisted began to be hired again by some bold studios. Situation was starting to be as normal as it could get taking into account that very few years had passed since the trials had sent quite a lot of people in Hollywood into unemployment.

There are no real parallelisms to be found between MacCarthyism and Inherit the Wind, of course a few of them can be found, but they are not obvious. It is more the general idea of liberty to think and produce and utter the speaker’s own ideas what relates this movie with Hollywood’s situation. When Henry Drummond (the liberal lawyer from Chicago who was sent to defend the teacher) arrives in Tennessee, he is received with hatred by the people of Hillsboro. Only two people talk to him, a reporter and the accused, whereas Matthew Harrison Brady enters the town with his wife and almost a parade celebrating his presence in the trial. What today’s society considers ‘the good guy’ was then thought as the undesirable man. In Los Angeles, in the 50s what today would be considered as the ‘good guys’, at the time they had no one to talk to, no friends who would help them, since they were all in the same situation. Edward Copeland in his review of the movie explains:

“He also asks why would God give man the ability to think when no other species does. Didn’t God grant Darwin the ability to come up with that theory? Does a sponge think? Brady says that if God wants a sponge to think, it thinks. ‘Shouldn’t man have the same rights as a sponge?’ Drummond asks. ‘I don’t think about things that I don’t think about,’ Brady responds. As the give-and-take continues between the two men, Drummond says, ‘It frightens me to think about the state of learning in the world if everyone had your driving curiosity.’ (…) Finally, Drummond reminds his legal adversary that, ‘The Bible is a book. It’s a good book, but it’s not the only book.’” (Edward Copeland)

Drummond turns all the Bible’s religious ideas against Brady who tries to answer as well as he can with all the information he has been instructed with since he was a child. And hence, Drummond manages to disturb him, to trap him in his own speech, as the HUAC used to do with nervous and insecure witnesses. Chicago’s lawyer’s quote about the lack of interest in learning can also be attributed to some of the friendly witnesses, and the great majority of United States population who believed everything they were told by the media, they did not want to know the truth, or they were maybe not curious about the truth, what they were told was the end of the matter, and that was it. Another similarity can be depicted with the Bible, “It’s a good book, but it’s not the only book”. The HUAC, Hoover and MacCarthy’s way of thinking could have been considered by some as a good way of doing things and obtaining results, but it was surely not the only one, and theirs was surely not the best. But what they wanted was for everybody to think the way they did, or they were afraid their belief structure would crumble.



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