The Bill of Rights is one of Warner Bros.’ many patriotic shorts about American history as the studio did its part in the lead up to WWII.
“Destroy the Bill of Rights, and freedom will pass from America as surely as day passes into night. Scorned in many hands, assailed even here, it is the final safeguard of the individual!”
The short film starts out in 1774 in Williamsburg, Virginia before cutting to scenes of revolution in the northern colonies. Colony after colony were being denied the same rights that the Crown gave to England’s own citizens. The film gives a bigger focus, initially, to the Virginian Declaration of Rights in 1776. The Virginian document would later influence the U.S. Bill of Rights among other documents. Ultimately, the United States would ratify the Bill of Rights in 1791 after debate. A few of the original proposed articles have yet to become amendments to the Constitution. Interestingly, the short includes archival footage of Patrick Henry reciting his “Liberty or Death” speech at the Second Virginia Convention in Give Me Liberty.
Like other historical shorts from Warner Bros., this was another one produced because of the fight against the Nazis. The film’s release came weeks before Nazi Germany marched into Poland, kicking off World War II. But until then, Warner Bros. did their best in drumming up patriotism through shorts about American history on the big screen. In terms of budget and such, it feels like one of the weaker history shorts especially compared to the Michael Curtiz-directed Sons of Liberty. Charles L. Tedford’s script packs way too much into a short film. The film served as a reminder of why Americans should fight but the American Revolution ended a few years before the focus turned to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Had this been a feature film, it’s focus would be all over the place.
The Bill of Rights means well but the short film takes too long before getting to the headlining debate.
DIRECTOR: Crane Wilbur
SCREENWRITER: Charles L. Tedford
CAST: Ted Osborne, Moroni Olson, Leonard Mudie, Vernon Steele, John Hamilton, Raymond Brown, Tom Chatterton
Warner Bros. released The Bill of Rights in theaters on August 19, 1939. Grade: 2.5/5
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