Despite being a classic drama pitting enlightenment reason versus
superstition, openness and truth versus hypocrisy, you’d be surprised
how many people have yet to see it. For it’s about much more than the
Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925; it pits small town provincialism against emerging modernity, which is,
sadly, a battle that continues to this day. Needless to say, with
giants like Spencer Tracy (Henry Drummond, aka Clarence Darrow) and
Fredric March (Matthew Harrison Brady, aka William Jennings Bryan)
aboard, the acting is among the finest ever captured on screen, and the
courtroom scenes — especially a final battle between Tracy and March
— are so riveting that it’s all I could do to keep myself from
cheering. Even Gene Kelly turns in a solid dramatic turn, playing H.L.
Mencken (called E.K. Hornbeck here) with dripping contempt and sarcasm,
which is about the only way to go about it.

Because there are millions of Americans who continue to deny
the irrefutability of evolution, this film is far from a dated
curiosity. Hell, change the clothes and add a few modern vehicles, and
this could just as easily be Topeka, Kansas circa 2004 as Dayton,
Tennessee during the Roaring Twenties. With rich, intelligent dialogue
and debates that continue to resonate, there is no better time to
revisit this eternal masterpiece, or even see it for the first time.
The DVD itself is devoid of extras, except of course for the standard
“original theatrical trailer.” A commentary track from a film critic or
historian would have been nice, but MGM rarely springs for bells and
whistles in its home video releases. The print also creaks and groans
from time to time, as this is little more than a direct transfer from
VHS. Studios will spend months and millions of dollars pouring over
each and every pixel of crap like Armageddon (released on
Criterion, which continues to be a sore spot with me), yet will leave
brilliant cinema largely untouched. Still, stuff your anger and spend
an evening with Stanley Kramer’s celebration of intellectual triumph,
expressed by Drummond after Brady asked him, “Is it possible that
something is holy?”:

“Yes, the individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the
multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted
amens and holy holies and hosannas. An idea is a greater monument
than a cathedral, and the advance of man’s knowledge is a greater
miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52