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The writing is superb, and the direction is perfection itself. The music and lyrics add a bold exclamation point, for they range from funny to serious, simple to complex, in the richness of sound and appropriateness of placement.
Leading the charge is the cantankerous character of John Adams (William Daniels). It is nothing less than a remarkable and brilliant portrayal, probably one of the most difficult, and yet one of the best ever played. Daniels walks a very fine line, depicting the essence of a man who grates on his friends and foes, yet quickly pulls the audience to his side. You can't help but feel the desperation, frustration and passion of Adams, as he tries to persuade and pull reluctant and loyalist colonial representatives to his cause.
Frank Da Silva's Ben Franklin is equal to the challenge of the quality performance given by Daniels. Franklin is certainly the more popular figure among the characters, but nevertheless has many complexities, expertly brought out by the quality writing and Da Silva's fine skill as an actor of high caliber.
It is hard to write a review of such a fine film, without mentioning all the magnificent performances by a remarkably talented cast. It is far easier, and much more pleasurable, to simply view the film. Pay attention to the lighting and choreography. Watch the meeting room transform from a rather plain space, to one of intensity, as the room goes from static and flat, to lively and dramatic. It follows the mood of the film, as the issue of independence is moved from a side issue, to weave its way to the forefront. The oversized calendar reminds one of the ticking of a clock, as the days move inevitably to July 4th. And while we know the outcome of the events, it is too easy to be drawn into the process, and become captured by the suspense of those last six weeks leading to the formation of a new nation. The tally board, which records the votes of the colonies, also looms large on the wall. The movement from left to right, for and against independence, also adds to the suspense and drama of the film.
There are lighthearted moments, and witty banter, among the characters, as one would expect. But there are surprises too. And the viewer gets to see an amazing transformation of the irritable Adams to a much softer person, when he corresponds with Abigail. Please add 1776, with confidence, to your list of must-see movies. I think it is as fresh today as it was 30-years ago. It is time for a film re-release, or at least a revival on Broadway, but since such things rarely happen, do yourself a favor and rent or buy the movie. Personally, I think it was the finest of its kind. Can one rate it higher than a ten? Would that I could, for it deserves it. Kudos to the writer, director, and amazing cast. It was, for many, their very best performances, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
William Daniels,is of course spectacular as John Adams,the linchpin of the show. Howard DaSilva and Franklin is just jaded enough(read dirty old man), and Ken Howard is delightful as Jeffrson. One person who was not in the stage production but is a definite asset to the movie is John Cullum as Rutledge.especially in his big solo number,Molasses to Rum.
A real treat for eyes and ears ,and a history lesson to boot.
The Broadway version of "1776" became a sensation with audiences and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical of 1969.
During this era of film-making, the musical was still considered to be a draw for audiences, so it was natural to take this show and bring it to the big screen. And best of all, John Warner brought the bulk of the cast from the show to the film. William Daniels IS John Adams to a lot of people, and his portrayal of the feisty proponent for independence is one of the great performances of any "real life" character. Daniels is equaled by his fellow Congressional cohorts, Ken Howard as the author of the document, Thomas Jefferson, and the amazing Howard Da Silva as the good doctor, Benjamin Franklin.
To me, the most remarkable element is the facts of the story are pretty much accurate, the timing of the events, measured with a wall calendar, keeps the tension going as we count down to that particular date... July 1st, 2nd, 3rd...
But it's more than just the story of the founding of the country, it's a love story, or really two, with the Jeffersons Martha, played by Blythe Danner and the Adams pair, with the incredible Virginia Vestoff as John's Abigail who interacts with her husband only in his mind.
For a musical, it is something of a "warts and all" examination of the process, as the south refuses to sign a declaration that freed their slaves, as Jefferson had intended in the original draft. John Cullum brilliantly voices this discussion as the genteel South Carolinian, Edward Rutledge, in the hypnotic and haunting "Molasses to Rum." In fact, every song in the score is well thought out, clever, truthful and very entertaining!
Maybe this isn't *exactly* how the USA began, but, at least once a year, let's say it is.
The wittiness of this piece also endears it. One scene is particularly noteworthy, for it lampoons the New York Legislature with uncanny accuracy. Space forbids me to elaborate but any New Yorker, or anyone else frustrated with politicians, will enjoy it.
Although based on historical facts, "1776" entertains and helps us understand the real people to helped bring forth "..a new nation, conceived in liberty..."
None of the score, excellent though it is by Sherman Edwards, was calculated to make the hit parade. The songs don't really stand alone, but they are part and parcel of the telling of the tale of the American Declaration of Independence. But what 1776 does is tell just how difficult it was to achieve a consensus for American independence even after we had been fighting the might of the British armies in the northern colonies for over a year.
Two of the men at the Second Continental Congress John Adams (William Daniels) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) became American presidents. Others there are more or less widely known, depending how deeply one has read into American history or paid good attention in class during school. I think most people would have more than a nodding acquaintance with Benjamin Franklin (Howard DaSilva). All three of these players came over from the original Broadway cast as did most of the film's players.
All of these people as Franklin said are the cream of their colony's society even if that society was built on human slavery. That the South's peculiar institution as they liked to phrase it came from the mother country is sometimes conveniently forgotten by critics of the USA. But slavery's existence was the biggest stumbling block towards building that consensus as 1776 graphically shows.
The founding fathers as we Americans call these guys are shown to be flesh and blood. Franklin who was the wisest one in the bunch deprecated in the film and in real life the demigod status that would attach to them. One founding father however does get a raw deal from 1776. James Wilson was not in the indecisive ninny who only craved obscurity. Emory Bass who also came over from Broadway played him that way because he was written that way. In fact Wilson who should have had the Scottish burr in his speech that was given to Ray Middleton's Thomas McKean, was a man of great distinction and learning. If he didn't shine at the 2nd Continental Congress, he more than made up for it at the Constitutional Convention. A lot of what is in the Constitution is there because of him. He was also one of the original members of the Supreme Court that George Washington appointed. Not at all like the fellow you see in 1776.
The ladies aren't ignored, Martha Wayles Jefferson appears in the flesh to give Tom Jefferson some relief from some tension he was having and is played by Blythe Danner. Virginia Vestoff plays Abigail Adams who only appears in William Daniel's imagination. It's fascinating to see Adams yearning for the wife, but still tending to business. When he became our second president, Abigail stayed in Braintree, Massachusetts which was their home and John spent as much time as he could with her and not really staying on top of things in Philadelphia and later in the new capital of Washington, DC. That's another subject for another film.
In fact watching these gentlemen reach the consensus for American independence is watching them reach said consensus, but also knowing how they all became some really bitter enemies later on after the nation's freedom was secured. I hope some who read this review and see 1776 will take the time and trouble to see just what happened with the rest of these people.
And if the film stirs your curiosity about how America was founded, than 1776 will be well worth watching.