93 minutes/ 2011
The year is 1925, and Charlie Anderson’s goal is to quit his job, leave his hometown of Dayton, Tennessee and work for legendary Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken. When a legal battle in the town’s one-room courthouse garners attention from the national media, Charlie thinks he may have just the news story he needs to grab Mencken’s attention.
Mencken turns out to be willing to teach Charlie how to craft an article. But close-up tutelage lets Charlie see that his mentor won’t let a little something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Mencken is more than willing to make up a story if it will sell papers. Is Charlie?
This is a charming romance/drama, and though it is a Christian production the acting is great – most roles have been filled with actors you’re likely to recognize (Colm Meaney, Star Trek: The Next Generation; Fred Thompson, Law and Order; Ashley Johnson, Growing Pains; Brian Dennehy, Rambo, etc.).
But there is another level on which Alleged can be appreciated. It is fun but also medicinal. What do I mean? Well, back in 1960 another film used a court case in 1925 Dayton, Tennessee as the setting for their film. And in the decades since then Inherit the Wind has been shown in public school classrooms across the US as a “based on true events” account of what happened back then. But whereas Alleged is mostly true, Inherit the Wind was mostly propaganda.
Here’s what really happened. In 1925 Tennessee passed the Butler Act which forbid Tennessee public schools from teaching students that Man descended from a lower form. Dayton’s John Scopes was the first to be charged with violating the law and his trial garnered national attention when some big names “star” lawyers were enlisted: for the prosecution, the Scripture-quoting, mostly Bible-believing, 3-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan; and for the defense, Clarence Darrow, infamous for his defense of two indefensible child-killing clients. These big names got the attention of one more: Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken whose columns largely influenced how the trial was perceived by the nation. Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100 but because Mencken portrayed this as being a battle between Science and Christian ignorance, Scopes became a noble martyr, and evolutionists decisively won the publicity battle.
Thirty-five years later Inherit the Wind built on Mencken’s work, but made Christians look even worse. Townspeople were shown as a lynch mob ready to kill Scopes, their minister a rabid dog, and their defender – William Jennings Bryan – an ignorant, boring blowhard. But it is this blatant misrepresentation of the trial that most colors how America remembers the “Scopes Monkey Trial.”
So it was a joy and delight to see how this same trial portrayed accurately in Alleged. We learn that John Scopes, rather than being hated by the town, was helping it – the trial had been a publicity stunt from the beginning, with Scopes a willing participant. The hordes of reporters and visitors brought in by the trial were a welcome boost to a local economy that had been hit hard by the closure of the town mine.
Some cautions to consider: Charlie is drunk as a skunk in one scene, though his fiancée’s disappointment makes this an object lesson in the folly of drunkenness. Also, one character shouts “Hallelujah!” in a seemingly insincere manner during a church service. And because the film teaches about the implication of Darwinian thought, there is a subplot that deals with eugenics. This may be a disturbing topic for a younger audience that doesn’t yet need to know how horrible the world can be.
Because Inherit the Wind was shown to generations of American public school children it has had a lasting impact on the way the creation/evolution debate is conducted. It can be given much of the credit for why creationist arguments are most often mocked, rather than answered.
Alleged is an enjoyable counter to Inherit the Wind. It is educational, informative, and also fun, romantic, generally light, and quite well acted. Highly recommend for older teens and adults.
You can check out the trailer below, but I do want to add that the film is much better than the trailer makes it out to be.
Americans can watch it for free right now at Tubitv.com. Those that want to delve even deeper into the real events should check out a lecture series by Dr. Gary North called “Monkey in the Middle.” It’s available on DVD, and hopefully shortly online. “Inherently Wind” is another lecture worth checking out (and it’s free!) in which Dr. David Menton contrasts the real events with the “Inherit the Wind” portrayal of them.