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In Search of History: The Monkey Trial [VHS]

4 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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(Feb 09, 2000)
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Product Details

  • Actors: William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Thomas Scopes
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Number of tapes: 1
  • Studio: A & E Home Video
  • VHS Release Date: February 9, 2000
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • ASIN: B000006QVO
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,673 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

In the summer of 1925, history was made in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee. The issue at hand was the "Butler Law," which forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools. The fledgling American Civil Liberties Union wanted to challenge the law's constitutionality and chose to test it with the trial of John Scopes, a young high-school math and gym teacher who briefly taught Darwinism as a substitute biology teacher. The quiet procedural matter exploded into a media carnival when two great lawyers arrived to argue the case. William Jennings Bryan, the renowned orator, three-time presidential candidate, and self-proclaimed Bible expert, argued for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow, the nation's most celebrated lawyer and an avowed agnostic, defended Scopes. Reporters from around the world descended on the tiny Bible belt town to chronicle the trial. Despite Darrow's best efforts, the jury convicted Scopes. Later, his conviction was overruled on a technicality by an appeals court, disappointing Darrow, who had hoped for an opportunity to take the case to the Supreme Court, where the constitutionality of the Butler Law could be challenged.

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Format: VHS Tape
"In Search of History: The Monkey Trial" was originally produced for the History Channel, which I know because they called me up to ask if I knew about any good sources for archival footage of the trial (I did my dissertation on the trial). The "Monkey" Trial was the State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes, accused of violating the Butler Act, which made it unlawful for any teacher "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." The truth of the matter is that Scopes never taught evolution to anybody--he was the football coach and was covering a science class for the regular teacher--but he believed in academic freedom and had no idea that when the ACLU asked for a test case that he would end up watching Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan skewer each other in court. This 50 minute video does indeed use lots of news footage from that summer of 1925, mixed with contemporary footage and interviews with such notables as Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion" and Richard Cornelius, professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, site of the trial. There is even some fascinating comments form a local lady who witnessed the trial as a little girl.
This video certainly provides a basic understanding of the trial, although it is skewed towards what everybody already knows, which is simply my way of pointing out that Dudley Field Malone's role in the trial has once again been ignored. Malone was one of the defense counsels and he had the responsibility for arguing that what Scopes did, did NOT violate the Butler Act.
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