The Bill of Rights in Film:

In honor of the 4th of July holiday, Rotten Tomatoes has posted a list of films that put the first ten amendments to the constitution in "cinematic context." They're film guys, but VC readers should know a little more about the law, so give us your recommendations for film scenes that capture the significance of those rights enumerated in the first ten amendments.

A.W. (mail):
Well, let's not forget that the classic "Double Jeapordy" teaches us that if you are framed for the murder of a s.o.b. husband who is not actually dead, you can then kill him with no consequence.

Oh, and in "The Player" they reveal that habeas corpus means you have to produce the body in a murder trial.

Hey and who can forget the 2nd amendment awesomeness of Red Dawn. my favorite part was toward the beginning when the soviet soldier fired an RPG into the school!

sorry to be tongue in cheek, but really should we be encouraging legal movies? given how much they screw up our view of the law?
7.7.2008 10:04am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
The Red Dawn opening sequence where in a minute or two we see the "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands" with the commie paratrooper doing just that. It's followed by the commies noting that they have to get the BATF forms from the gun shops to see who's armed.

The first scene is in this clip.
7.7.2008 10:08am
DiverDan (mail):
I cant get the link to work, so I haven't seen the list, but I can't imagine any film but 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, et al., to symbolize the 6th Amendment right to jury trial. As to 7th Amendment, how about The Verdict, with Paul Newman? I'm really interested to see if ANYONE can come up with a Film for the 3rd Amendment -- Or the 9th or 10th, for that matter.
7.7.2008 10:09am
I'm really interested to see if ANYONE can come up with a Film for the 3rd Amendment -- Or the 9th or 10th, for that matter.

Third Amendment: The Beguiled, with Clint Eastwood.

Ninth Amendment: Zardoz, with Sean Connery; I have no idea what that movie was all about.

Tenth Amendment: Reno 911! There's a scene at a motel where a man just trying to get to his room walks by a series of windows where people are exercising their freedoms with their curtains open, and in many cases exercising them alone.

And for the Fifth Amendment (the takings clause), an Australian movie called The Castle.
7.7.2008 10:18am
pete (mail) (www):

And for the Fifth Amendment (the takings clause), an Australian movie called The Castle.

That would not work since in The Castle the Australian court actually agreed that the goverment can not take private property and then give it to a private developer. Its against the vibe of the constitution.
7.7.2008 10:31am
It's been a while, but didn't The Patriot include a bit about quartering soldiers?

Double Jeopardy might win the award for the movie that most egregiously misconstrued a constitutional right.
7.7.2008 10:31am
Gideon's Trumpet.

The 6th.

This was one of those movies that had a huge influence on me as a young'un.
7.7.2008 10:32am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
There's a 3rd Amendment scene in the first episode of HBO's John Adams: Join or Die.

As the dialog mentions quartering of troops we see civilians being forced out of a house by redcoats. This was for the benefit of the audience since the point of quartering was not only that the (godless, drunken, lascivious) redcoats supposed to be housed they were also supposed to be fed and laundered.

I suppose the only other 3rd Amendment films would be Attica (either the documentary or the made for TV version) even though I doubt they dealt with the prison guards' claim that housing national guard troops in their on-site housing during the siege was a violation of the guards' 3rd amendment rights.
7.7.2008 10:38am
A.W. (mail):

in case it was not obvious, yeah, i agree 100% on Double Jeapordy.

For bonus points, the trailer revealed so much that you didn't have to watch it. thank god.
7.7.2008 10:41am
Even worse, I watched that piece of trash with a group of friends, and one of them could not possibly comprehend how double jeopardy worked. She insisted that the second murder would be shielded from prosecution, no matter how many times I tried to explain it to her. It was miserable. But, I guess that's why Hollywood made it in the first place.
7.7.2008 10:43am
martinned (mail) (www):
@merevaudevillian: Quartering Soldiers? Wow, no wonder you guys wanted to be independent.
7.7.2008 10:52am
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
There's at least one more whole category of 3rd Amendment films: DVDs of Rossini's Barber of Seville, in which the Count of Almaviva gains access to the girl he loves by pretending to be a soldier with orders to billet at her guardian's house.

Another opera with a Bill of Rights angle is Beethoven's Fidelio. Here's what I blogged about it 5 1/2 years ago:

In the crisis of Fidelio, the evil prison governor Don Pizarro is about to murder his prisoner Florestan with a knife, when Florestan's wife Leonore saves him by pulling a gun. Apparently Don Pizarro had never heard that he shouldn't bring a knife to a gunfight.

Leonore had infiltrated the prison by disguising herself as a young man, calling herself Fidelio, and taking a job as aide to the jailer Rocco. Rocco's daughter Marzelline falls in love with 'Fidelio', leading to much amusement and confusion in Act I. I suppose having a gun in her pocket helps Leonore convince Marzelline that she is a man, and glad to see her, neither of which is true.

Of course, the fact that 'Fidelio' has a gun does not prove that Beethoven's imaginary German city-state had any equivalent to the 2nd Amendment. She's a prison employee, so the gun may come with the job.
7.7.2008 11:14am
C Miller (mail) (www):
Maybe "Cold Mountain" for the Third Amendment. I'm thinking about the section of the film with Natalie Portman.
7.7.2008 11:18am
DiverDan wrote at 7.7.2008 9:09am:
I cant get the link to work, so I haven't seen the list, but I can't imagine any film but 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, et al., to symbolize the 6th Amendment right to jury trial.
Agreed and ditto on the Rotten Tomatoes link. Maybe it's been Volokhed -- think Slashdotted.

How about Thunder Road for implicit demonstration of 4th Amendment automobile search exceptions?
7.7.2008 11:23am
C Miller (mail) (www):
Maybe "Escape from New York" or "Escape from L.A." for the Tenth Amendment.
7.7.2008 11:25am
Thief (mail) (www):
Believe it or not, I've always had a soft spot for The People vs. Larry Flynt. That scene mentioned in the article is a perfect summation of what freedom of expression means.

As for the Fifth Amendment, I'm going to go with the interrogation scene in L.A. Confidential, where Det. Exley (Guy Pearce) interrogates three suspects in a diner massacre. It's not on YouTube, but it's a great scene and a great movie.
7.7.2008 11:26am
Gary McGath (www):
Wasn't it a cliche of old movies that gangsters in court invoked the Fifth Amendment, saying that answering the question "might tend to incinerate me"?
7.7.2008 11:37am
Steve H. (mail):
Ah! I can't believe this thread got this far without Mockingbird!

I'm also going to go with Born on the Fourth of July, for First Amendment.

(I can't get to the rotten tomatoes link, but I'd assume they had it on there, too.)
7.7.2008 11:46am
A.W. (mail):

The real core of the 1st A has nothing to do with pervs. It has to do with political expression. It goes along with democracy.

We could do away with porn and still have a democracy. But mccain feingold threatens democracy itself.
7.7.2008 11:48am
C Miller (mail) (www):
Maybe Margaret Sanger's "Birth Control" for the Ninth Amendment.
7.7.2008 11:59am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Red Dawn for 2nd amendment. "Go to the sporting goods store and get the forms 4473." Cold dead hands, etc. Most of what Hollywood produces is solidly anti-gun when it addresses the issue of civilians with firearms.

Flynt vs the People for 1st amendment. That ending speech was taken right out of the SCOTUS oral arguments if I remember correctly. Actually Larry Flynt vs the People is probably the best legal drama I've seen in a long while. Did I get the movie title wrong? I can't remember the name properly.

I think the 4th amendment gets a lot of play on TV but not so much in movies.
7.7.2008 12:30pm
Angus Lander (mail):
Lance Banyon vs. the Ku Klux Klan is in the spirit of Loving v. Virginia.
7.7.2008 12:30pm
Katl L (mail):
Falling Down ( against 2nd)
Inherit the Wind( 1rst)
the runaway jury ( against the 6)
7.7.2008 12:32pm
Katl L (mail):
tHe net ( 9th right to privacy or informative autonomy)
7.7.2008 12:33pm
Thales (mail) (www):
The Majestic (only an okay movie, but contains a good impassioned speech) and the HBO movie Citizen Cohn (about Roy Cohn) on HUAC and the 1st Amendment.
7.7.2008 12:44pm
for double jeopardy - Witness for the Prosecution
7.7.2008 1:38pm
Paul McKaskle (mail):
The Barber of Seville is an opera, but it is available on several DVDs. One major element of the plot involves the hero, Count Almaviva, disguised as an officer of a regiment which has just arrived in town (Seville) brandishing an order requiring Dr. Bartolo to house him. His real purpose for gaining access to the house is to woo Rosina, Dr. Bartolo's ward. The ultimately successful romance between Almaviva and Rosina would have been thwarted had the operas been set in the U.S. because of the third amendment prohibition on quartering soldiers.
7.7.2008 1:40pm
EconomicNeocon (mail):
For the 1st Amendment, I like Absence of Malice, another Paul Newman flick. Wilford Brimley is tremendous. Sally Field ain't bad.
7.7.2008 2:01pm
Mark Kernes (mail) (www):
Well, there was that scene in "My Blue Heaven" where Steve Martin (as a gangster) gets to say, "I'm the worst case scenario of Thomas Jefferson's vision" -- and I think it relates to some First Amendment dispute with the local DA, but I'd have to rewatch it to be sure.
7.7.2008 2:04pm
who can forget dirty harry?

several amendments in one quote!

Harry is getting a dressing-down for his most recent arrest]
District Attorney Rothko: You're lucky I'm not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder.
Harry Callahan: What?
District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.
Harry Callahan: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights! "

Harry Callahan: Are you trying to tell me that ballistics can't match the bullet up to this rifle?
District Attorney Rothko: It does not matter what ballistics can do. This rifle might make a nice souvenir. But it's inadmissible as evidence.
Harry Callahan: And who says that?
District Attorney Rothko: It's the law.
Harry Callahan: Well, then the law is crazy.
7.7.2008 3:01pm
Syd (mail):
Cruel and unusual punishment: "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang"

Freedom of the press: "Five Star Final" (about abuse of freedom of the press by a sleazy tabloid); "All the President's Men" (For the Freedom of the Press); "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (Remember the bad guys trying to stifle an independent press?)

Trial by jury: "The Ox-Bow Incident" (the anatomy of a lynching)

Right to a fair trial "The Count of Monte Cristo"

Petitioning the government, and 9th amendment: "Iron Jawed Angels"
7.7.2008 4:12pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
For those without the patience for the slowness of the 5 RT pages:

The People Vs. Larry Flynt
Death Wish
Cops &Robbersons
Training Day
The Godfather Part II
12 Angry Men
The Verdict
The Shawshank Redemption
Enemy of the State
Smokey and the Bandit
7.7.2008 4:41pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
"nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself"--any Perry Mason film.

4th, 5th and 6th Amendments: "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay"

2nd Amendment: "Unforgiven"
7.7.2008 5:19pm
While it may not be immediately obvious, I might put "Seven Days in May" for 2nd Ammendment. But it is hard to beat Red Dawn.
7.7.2008 8:05pm
conlawfan (mail):
It's been a very long time since I've seen "Anatomy of a Murder" (with Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott). In my opinion it is the best trial movie ever made. I vaguely recall my criminal law professor mentioning the movie in the context of a Constitutional amendment, but I can't remember which one. There are several cross-examination scenes, so perhaps it was the Sixth.
7.7.2008 8:56pm
Shawn Levasseur (mail) (www):
There are a bazillion films that could represent the First Amendment. But for me, I have a soft spot in my heart for Pump Up the Volume
7.8.2008 10:43pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
The use of The Shawshank Redemption for the Eighth Amendment is pathetic. Mistreatment by correctional authorities is criminal, not unconstitutional, unless mandated by law.

Any movie on the actual intent of the Eighth Amendment would probably have to be set outside the U.S. I don't know of any U.S. jurisdiction which decreed torture or mutilation as a punishment, and certainly don't know of any movie about such.

(Has there ever been a successful 8th Am challenge to a bail requirement or a fine?)
7.9.2008 12:48am
Jason Dominguez (mail):
4th/5th/14th related sci-fi:
Minority Report
A Scanner Darkly
7.11.2008 4:17pm