Monday, January 05, 2009

Give Me Liberty, 1936

I had wanted to post a full synopsis of this short some time ago, but there is a copy-protection or something on the DVD that prevents my computer from even recognizing that there is a disc in the drive (quite annoying, and if I was someone who didn't have a DVD player and used his computer to watch DVDs, I would have been extremely annoyed). It finally occurred to me that there was a simple workaround; the only new equipment required being an s-video cable.

Give Me Liberty is one of several historical, patriotic shorts starring John Litel. It was made partly so Warner could try out their new Technicolor equipment before dedicating it to full-length films.

It begins with Patrick Henry (played by John Litel) finishing up a previous speech ("If this be treason, gentlemen, then make the most of it") and his wife worrying that he would be taken prisoner and sent to England for speaking out against the king. The scene then switches to a party at the Henrys' house. While Mrs. Henry (Nedda Harrigan) plays Blind Man's Buff, Henry is in another room discussing politics--against his good wife's wishes.

And smoking pipes. Some nice clay churchwardens. (BTW, I used to have a pipe exactly like that but dropped it and snapped off the stem...sigh). This is accurate. There were no briar pipes in the 1770s. The man sitting on the right and smoking is Peyton Randolph, first President of the Continental Congress, played by Ted Osborne.

They finish the game of Blind Man's Buff and Mrs. Henry goes to find her husband. The four men ensconced in the room above return to the general party and Henry starts to play a song on his violin but breaks a string, so he asks another guest to sing a song that the guest has written: an anti-British, pro-rebellion song. The guest warns that the song has been banned, but Henry says that since it is his house, he will take responsibility. A British Commissioner hears the song and barges into the house with some redcoats--a no-knock raid--to arrest the singer. The Commissioner warns Henry that he has a list of those who are not loyal to the king, and Henry's name is on the list, so he should watch what he says or he could be arrested as well. As they lead his friend away, Henry follows to try and get him back out of jail.

The setting changes to George Washington's house at Mount Vernon. A messenger arrives to bring Washington news that British soldiers have fired on colonists in Boston. Washington writes to Henry to urge him to use his talents to speak out and bring Virginia into the conflict. "If Virginia arms, others will follow..."

Henry receives the letter and he and his wife discuss the problem of rebellion. She simply doesn't want her husband to be killed or arrested, so she persuades him to abstain from any further political rhetoric.

With this bump, at about the 10-minute mark, we begin the final scenes in which the "Give Me Liberty" speech is included.

These two men are supposed to be Thomas Jefferson (on the left) and George Washington (on the right--Jefferson appears so much taller because he's standing on a step). They have been expecting Henry to say something, but he hasn't. They discuss it between themselves and briefly speak with Henry. They deduce that his wife has something to do with his reticence. Washington leaves to go talk to Mrs. Henry.

The British Commissioner who arrested Henry's friend shows up and warns Henry, "...any speech-making on your part may prove very unwise."

A anti-rebellion speaker is on the stand, and Henry is obviously disgusted with the speech and can barely restrain himself from responding.

"Therefore I say that we must not arm, we must not show belligerence...let not Virginia become another Boston. Virginia must not--shall not--take up arms..."

At last Henry can tolerate no more, and he rises to take the stand, but he keeps it toned down. "No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house."

He goes on in a somewhat restrained manner, until he gets to the part about, "Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love?"

At this point he looks up and sees that his wife has arrived.

She gives him a nod of approval. Then he lets them have it.

"They were sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long in forging..."

"Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication?"

"We must fight! I repeat, sir, we must fight!"

"Shall we learn the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope?"

"The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us."

Mrs. Henry gets into it.

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"

"Forbid it, Almighty God!"

"I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

He does not do the entire speech as I have read it. There are bits left out, and a couple of specific words seem to have been flubbed, but this short is worth watching and watching again. Especially keep in mind how someone like Patrick Henry would be treated in the lazy and cynical world of today. Undoubtedly he would be judged unrealistic, his "...millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty..." scorned as nonsensical yet dangerous fanaticism. In my opinion, his words of warning ring through the ages.
And what have we to oppose them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on.
Give Me Liberty is packaged as a bonus feature on the DVD of The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland). It is also part of the The Errol Flynn Signature Collection boxed set. Total runtime for the short is about 20 minutes.

Previous: The Historical Works of John Litel.

1 comment:

  1. Can you imagine the cojones required to do what he did? I wonder if it came to it today, if we would have anyone of his caliber; to say nothing of Washington, Adams, or Jefferson, to get the job done. What passes for bravery today is betraying your party and lifelong values to endorse someone because they are the same color as you.(Colin Powell) God help us all...