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1776

"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!" - John Adams.

July 4th week serves up the perfect time to watch the 1972 film adaption of the Broadway hit, 1776.

Detailing the month before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, the film's opening scenes creak and moan like a tired dinosaur.

But damned if the founding fathers don't start to find their footing as the film goes on.

Anytime that John Adams (William Daniels) starts singing to the rafters and the specter of his wife Abagail (Virginia Vestoff) appears to sing back to him, run for the popcorn. Their first song in an excruciating ballad that spends most of it's time having them dual over saltpeter or pins. WT-Patriotic-F? Every time those two start singing to each other long distance, the film creaks to a giant old-fashioned halt. The songs are based on actual letters between the two, but maybe that correspondence should have stayed buried in Abagail's diary.

I almost gave up on making it through this until Howard da Silva (The Lost Weekend, Coppola's The Great Gatsby) showed up as Benjamin Franklin, bringing plenty of laughs and fun to the proceedings.

Ken Howard (The Thorn Birds) is also terrific as Thomas Jefferson and Blythe Danner adds plenty of energy as Jefferson's wife.

After the first thirty minutes that feel much like any traditional sixties big screen musical, the film settles into a long section about the early days of Congress that is actually informative and interesting. As the men from all different backgrounds and varying levels of devotion to England battle over independence, the screenplay by Peter Stone (The Taking of Pelham, Charade) reveals itself as smart and loaded with history. He also wrote the book for the Broadway musical and later wrote the book for "Titanic" on Broadway.

About halfway through the film, it starts to soak in that in many ways, Stone and Sherman Edwards, who wrote the music, laid the traditional groundwork that would be shattered and reformed decades later by Lin Manuel Miranda in his groundbreaking Broadway hit "Hamilton". The 46th Street Theater, where 1776 played on Broadway, running for 1217 performances, is now the Richard Rodgers Theater, home to "Hamilton"!


In 1776, future first President George Washington sends depressing messages describing the almost insurmountable odds of his 5000 ragtag troops facing off against 25,000 English soldiers arriving in NYC.

The first Congress, made up of farmers, aristocrats,architects and clergy each have one vote on creating America as an independent nation. Stone lifts entire sections from historically accurate letters and court documents for the historical characters to act or sing.

This is not a sung through musical like "Hamilton". It's far more traditional, occasionally painfully so, but when the songs are about politics, they're smart. When they are about love, they feel very dated and I kept waiting for them to start battling over politics again.

Like Spielberg's "Lincoln" the film also focuses on the fascinating battle over slavery at the core of the Declaration of Independence. William Daniels and da Silva are just two of many actors recreating their Broadway stage roles and Daniels is great as the very stubborn John Adams. While I've read the history, I had forgot how dangerously close the country came to not forging its own path.

"The Lees of Old Virginia", "But Mr. Adams", "Cool, Cool Considerate Men" (with all its clever ties to the Star Bangled Banner) are all enjoyable comedic songs, but the Finale serves up the best moments, stirring strong patriotic feelings.

"Mama Look Sharp" is a dramatic precedent for "Bring Him Home" in Les Miserables.


Included among the American Film Institute's 2006 list of 180 movies nominated for AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals, 1776 is a patriotic, entertaining, very old fashioned big screen musical that manages to teach a bit of history along the way.

I'll give it a red white and blue B-.


"Those who would give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin




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