Retro Review: ‘1776’
A wise man once said that summer is America’s season, hell America was even born in the summer (in case you were wondering that wise man in Hank Hill). So what better way to celebrate the good ol’ US of A than to look at a movie which dramatized the summer which birthed this nation. This particular movie I am talking about did not just tell this story with surprising historic accuracy, it did so with song as well. Of course I am talking about the beloved musical 1776. This was the final film overseen by the legendary Jack Warner of Warner Brothers fame, he saw this musical on stage and loved it so much he brought it to Hollywood to adapt the show into film. Rather than cast familiar A-list actors in the roles of John Adams and Ben Franklin, he brought most of the original cast to the West Coast too to bring the power of the stage production to the big screen.
The history geek in me has always been thrilled about this flick, because aside from people bursting out into well-choreographed song, it remains one of the more accurate historical films. Granted academics may point out inaccuracies concerning dates and other details, but this comes with the territory of making films out of historical events. Strangely the biggest historical variations come in the presentation of the lead character John Adams, who does not get the respect from his fellow Congress members which had rightly gained throughout a distinguished career. Perhaps the excellent portrayals are amplified due to the fact the ensemble had been playing these roles since the show was on Broadway and had the experience to make these characters come alive. Howard Da Silva is perfect as the wise class clown Benjamin Franklin, John Cullum is completely convincing as he states the Southern colonies’ case for remaining in the British Empire, and of course the great William Daniels is fervent if not a bit grating (intentionally so)as John Adams pushing hard for the cause of independence. This cast should get credit not only for delivering on the acting side of things but also in their ability to deliver the musical numbers required. ‘
In the creation of this show Sherman Edwards composed a songbook which was not only catchy and enjoyable but could also be powerful. The music drives the way the audience feels throughout the saga from the absolute fun of “The Lees of Old Virginia” to the heart wrenching, “Molasses to Rum”. These aid the tonal shifts the movie takes as one minute you could chuckling at Ben Franklin’s witticism or feel tense and morally disgusted as Edward Rutledge refuses to ratify the Declaration of Independence so long as the document denounces slavery. Despite constantly switching in tones from toe-tapping fun to a tension you could cut with a knife, 1776 stays concise and on point.
The creators of 1776 did a magnificent job telling the story of the Declaration of Independence in a way that works so well and is entirely unique. An incredible cast and a brilliant collection of music combine to create a film which many love and latch onto.