8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
David L. Bump
- Published on Amazon.com
It is a great shame that this video didn't get distributed to theaters. I heard in a radio interview that it has done well in a number of film festivals. It has some well-known actors showing how talented they are, and the quality of the filming is also equal to or better than most films that Hollywood has produced.
I call it "The antidote to Inherit the Wind" because many people have gotten the impression that ItW shows what the Scopes Trial was like, but this movie shows what actuallly happened. However, the primary focus is on the roots of the problems of modern journalism -- sensationalism (shocking stories about what has been "alleged"), focusing on negatives, juicing up the plain facts ("paint a picture"), and seeking to make the public share the "progressive" view of events.
The protagonist of the story is a young reporter, torn between the high, "old-fashioned" standards of his father, and the success of H. L. Mencken, who comes to be a sort of mentor in the new ways of making news. Fans of Star Trek may marvel at how well Colm Meany plays this cynical man, so different from his character in ST:TNG. Meany doesn't soft-pedal Mencken's cynicism and cold-hearted pragmatism, yet he also doesn't go overboard and turn the character into a cardboard evil-doer. He displays Mencken's flashing sense of humor and enjoyment of life. People who admire Mencken shouldn't feel offended, and may well not see anything wrong with his ideas and behavior even when presented as belonging to the closest thing to a "bad guy" in this film. Which is best, honesty and integrity or fame and fortune? And can you have both?
This movie is far from the sort of propaganda or polemical affair that would portray real people as simple villains and immaculate heroes. If anything, Clarence Darrow (expertly portrayed by Brian Dennehy) is treated more positively than he deserves. Atheists and evolutionists needn't fear any offence of that sort. This is not the mirror image of Inherit the Wind in that way.
However, the movie does bring out the sorry lack of evidence, at the time, for the theory that humans evolved from lower animals. Again, the movie is perhaps overly gentle in this regard, for the sake of historical accuracy I assume, showing (for example) a presentation of the doctrine that embryonic development of humans recapitulates our evolutionary history, complete with gill slits. It is not pointed out (few if any knew it at the time) that this was a gross misrepresentation, based largely on fraudulent drawings made by Ernst Haeckel to support his own ideas about evolution. Likewise, the fact that "Nebraska Man" was known only from a tooth is brought out, but the fact that it was later determined to be the tooth of a pig is only brought up in the notes after the movie proper is over. It is interesting that the weaknesses of the evidence that the panel of scientists wanted to present (and did submit in writing) are brought out by Darrow (at least in this movie), as he evaluates how they would play out in the court. Likewise, the movie leaves to the unbelievers Mencken and Darrow to destroy the idea that evolution and Biblical creation are in any way compatible, either way you look at it.
Perhaps the one aspect that some may find offensive is the depiction of the connections from Darwinian evolution to eugenics to the application that included the sterilization of 60,000 people in the States, which was sanctioned by the Supreme Court. However, this too is the way it was historically. While it may be argued that Darwin's theory shouldn't be connected to socio-political attempts to purify the human gene pool, it is a fact that Darwin himself raised questions about the wisdom of allowing inferior sorts to breed, pointing out that it would be considered a bad practice in breeding animals. It's also a historical fact that the biology book that Scopes taught from (briefly, as a substitute) taught many things we would all find offensive now, and tied them to evolution and what it claimed were biological facts. It is clear that these ideas were held by very many scientists and leaders of academia.
Vying for attention with all this is a love story, nearly qualifying this as a romance movie. To my relief, it does not make the film into a "chic flic", although it may add some attraction for women. Fortunately, it also does not distract from the rest of the story, nor does it seem to be an afterthought that interrupts the main storyline. I found all of the different aspects of the story seamlessly blended together.
All of this adds up to a movie that is educational, but in a way that you wouldn't notice if you weren't looking. I was looking, and learned some things even though I've studied the subject a bit more than most people probably have. Some things I wonder about and would like to do some research on, and that's a good thing. You can enjoy it just for the performance of Colm Meany (and/or the other actors; Fred Thompson does a good job bringing William Jennings Bryan to life, again as a man with both good qualities and human frailty). It's enjoyable as a tale of Boy engages Girl, Boy picks up bad habits, Girl breaks off engagement... (Sorry if this is a spoiler, but it has a happy ending!). It's fascinating as a picture of a bygone era, a period when foundations held for centuries were being exchanged for what was considered the modern, progressive way of looking at the world. Without being preachy, it invites us to question things we are told we must accept as true and good.
(BTW, if you would like to experience some of the scenery first-hand, come to Genesee County, Michigan, where much of the filming was done. Look up Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad. It's close to Flint.)