Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Historical Works of John Litel

Yesterday I read about a short historical drama called Give Me Liberty at The War On Guns. Is was a 1936 dramatization of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech. Patrick Henry is my favorite of what we have come to call our "founding fathers," if you can consider him that, so I was immediately interested and intrigued. The commenter had seen it on Turner Classic Movies, but noted that it is not available on DVD. Never being one to accept anything as truth until I have verified it myself, I began doing some research.

I had never heard of the character actor John Litel before, but he had a long and busy career between 1929 and 1967. Photograph thanks to Cinefania. While searching for anything that might lead me to this short, I read a brief mention that Litel had made several such short historical dramatizations, so I began searching further. Here is what I've found.

As previously mentioned, Give Me Liberty appears to be the first such short he made. I discovered that Warner Brothers makes it a practice to package various vintage shorts, as well as commercials, newsreels, etc., with their classic movie DVD releases. All the shorts are from the same year that the movie was originally released. Give Me Liberty can be found included with Errol Flynn's 1936 version of The Charge of the Light Brigade. This disc is also part of The Errol Flynn Signature Collection, vol. 2. Full details of all the extra features included on this disc can be found at DVD Times. (Not a direct link, just scroll down).

Next we have The Declaration of Independence, a 1938 short in which Litel portrays Thomas Jefferson. This featurette can be found included on the DVD release with Edward G. Robinson's 1938 movie A Slight Case of Murder. This disc is also included in the box set of Warner Brothers Pictures Tough Guys Collection. Details also at DVD Times (scroll down). Litel also plays a part in the movie.

In 1939 Litel played an uncredited voice role as the voice of Patrick Henry in the Warner Brothers cartoon Old Glory. This is one that I'm sure many readers will remember. It's the cartoon in which Porky Pig dreams that he is talking with Uncle Sam. I have a hunch (and it is only a hunch) that Litel's role was actually just an edited-in snip of Give Me Liberty. Old Glory may be found included with Loony Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2, the Errol Flynn Signature Collection, vol. 2 as mentioned above, or the single-disc of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939, Errol Flynn and Bette Davis). As usual, full details at DVD Times. When it comes to details, this website has already proven itself indispensable.

Also in 1939 we have The Bill of Rights. Once again Litel portrays Patrick Henry, although in an uncredited role. This short is included with John Wayne's 1939 Allegheny Uprising, which is also part of The John Wayne Film Collection. DVD Times once again has all the details.

I believe he made other historical shorts, but these are all the ones dealing with the founding of the United States, which is what this post is focused on. I don't own any of these DVDs yet, but I have ordered the one with Give Me Liberty. Once I receive it I will be able to positively confirm if the short is indeed included on it.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have further information or if you feel I've made any mistakes.

UPDATE: The short in question is on the DVD. All these shorts are also available as downloads from Netflix, according to Keller City Limits.


  1. Oh for sure, one of my favorite oldtime character actors. He had to have been in virtually all of the Warner Bros westerns at one time or another, usually as the mayor or judge and while I can remember him as the governor in Zorro, I've but a dim recollection that he may also have been the town marshall or mayor in Elfago Bacca, too.

  2. Outstanding!

    If the shorts are indeed on the DVDs I will order them.

    Great find!