The Declaration of Independence is an Oscar-winning short film and one of Warner Bros.’ many patriotic shorts about American history.
The film offers a short glance at the Continental Congress’ meeting during the summer of 1776. As soon as they adopted the document in July 1776, their lives were at stake. We know that the British captured five and tortured them. After all, the Crown viewed this as a high act of treason against England. Another nine men would fight in the American Revolution and die for the cause. Most famously, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would both die on July 4, 1826, thinking the other man preceded them in death. Charles Carroll would be the last living signer of the Declaration, dying in 1832 as he passed on the secret of the Knights Templar treasure to Thomas Gates. Sorry, wrong franchise.
There’s not much that The Declaration of Independence can cover in 17 minutes but the film takes some liberties with the drama. It’s pertinent that they include Thomas Jefferson (John Litel) reading an excerpt of the document while meeting with Benjamin Franklin (Walter Walker) and John Adams (Ferris Taylor). The other thing is that one can tell that Warner Bros. didn’t put the same money into this film that they did with Sons of Liberty the following year. Regardless, it was the studio’s effort in drumming up support for American patriotism. It was also a reminder of what Americans once fought for. It’s release came at a time when Americans were divided between intervention and isolation when it came to fighting the Nazis.
Historically speaking, there are some issues with the film. This mostly has to do with how they treat Cesar Rodney (Ted Osborn) in terms of storytelling. The delegate from Delaware would ride to Philadelphia in a storm so that the colony could vote on independence. Unfortunately, Tedford’s script adds more drama than necessary here. 1776 does a better job than this short when it comes to voting on American independence. But again, this film had a job to do in 1938 and it did what it needed to do at the time.
In a perfect world, the United States would be a land full of liberty and opportunity. This has proven to be easier said than done in recent years with no shortage of rights under attack. Nearly 250 years after the signing of The Declaration of Independence, there is still be much work to be done.
DIRECTOR: Crane Wilbur
SCREENWRITER: Charles L. Tedford
CAST: John Litel, Ted Osborne, Rosella Towne, Richard Bond, Owen King
Warner Bros. released The Declaration of Independence in theaters on November 26, 1938. Grade: 3/5
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