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Classic Review: 1776 (1972)


Ah yes, the Fourth of July, time again to celebrate our independence from the British Empire with barbecues, booze and oodles of fireworks displays. Hollywood has also done it's fair share of trying to celebrate this country of ours, whether it be films like Young Abraham Lincoln, Yankee Doodle Dandy or modern fair like Rocky IV, Hollywood has done a fine job of committing American values to celluloid.

Musicals have also tried as well, and none succeeded more than the musical 1776. A Broadway sensation when it came out in the Sixties, a movie adaptation was almost certainly in the works, and in 1972, it finally came to the silver screen. Controversy surrounded some of the historical inaccuracies (since when has a major historical film been accurate?) but a strong cult following was grown and this movie lives on at Turner Classic Movies and independent theaters every Fourth.

The plot of the movie concerns John Adams (William Daniels, yes, as in Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World) and his comrade Benjamin Franklin (Howard da Silva) trying to craft a resolution of independence from the Second Continental Congress. Aided by allies such as Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), a resolution seems on the horizon, however some Southern delegates are strongly opposed, and it;s not so easy to wait for the chirp of a newly hatched eagle. Adams, Franklin and Jefferson must soon maneuver to get a Declaration passed for the good of posterity and for America.

The stagebound approach of the direction may divide some moviegoers who see this film. Some would like to see some of the action implied off screen while others might enjoy the faithfulness to the stage direction. The musical numbers are all well paced and incredible. The pacing is fine and things keep moving quickly.

The acting is also very good, especially from Daniels, da Silva and Howard. Virginia Vestoff and Blythe Danner also give great supporting turns as Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson respectively, and John Cullum is deliciously despicable as antagonist Edward Rutledge of South Carolina.

The songs are very good and quite memorable, especially "Sit Down, John", "But Mr. Adams", "The Egg" and "Is Anybody There?". These songs help build the plot and expand character development, and are never superfluous.

Overall if you are looking for a hard look at the fight for American Independence, I suggest picking up some of David McCullough's books on the subject or any other historian. However if you want a nice musical to celebrate the Fourth too, this is the film for you. So unless you want to be obnoxious and disliked, give this film a try.

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