1955 June 10

Censorship Office: Film on Famous Scopes Trial “Unfair” to “Religious-Thinking People”

 

The planned film on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial that began on July 10, 1925, when John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law, had to endure the standard pre-production approval by the Hollywood Production Code office. A Code office memo on this day found the script of Inherit The Wind “unacceptable” because of its “unfair portrayal of religious-thinking people, i.e., those of the Christian faith.” The memo also claimed that the script misrepresented “certain facts regarding Christian dogma.” Portraying the minister who led the effort to prosecute Scopes as a “villain,” moreover, was a clear Code violation. (Excerpts from the correspondence is in The Censorship Papers, below, with similar correspondence for other films.)

Although some changes in the script were made as a result of the memo, the film Inherit the Wind presents a very unflattering view of religious fundamentalists and the literal interpretation of the Bible. The real problems with the film involved its melodramatic approach to the subject, including a fictional romance between Scopes and the fanatical minister’s daughter. Nonetheless, some of the trial scenes are taken directly from the transcript of the case, and those parts of the movie are quite riveting.

The play Inherit the Wind opened on Broadway on April 21, 1955.

From the files of the Hollywood Code Office: Gerald Gardner, The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters from the Hays Office, 1934 to 1968 (1987)

Learn more: Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997)

Read the play: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind (1955)

And more about the famous trial: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/scopes.htm

Learn more about science education and evolution: http://ncse.com/evolution

Learn about the movie: Inherit the Wind (1960): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053946/

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