Happy Fourth of July to everyone.
I had decided to revisit a film that I saw years ago, but that fit perfectly in with the intention of the day. 1776 was a comedy/drama/musical that adapted a Broadway stage play of the same name. I can remember seeing this as a younger man and not truly understanding what was going on.
The musical details the days proceeding the approval of the resolution of independence up until the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, the film takes plenty of liberties with the actual facts involved in the Continental Congress, but none of these historical inaccuracies should be worrisome. This is not a documentary. It is a piece of entertainment and thus is more concerned with the drama of the situation than the complete truth.
However, it was stated that much of the dialogue in the film came, over the years, from letters and correspondences from the individuals in the Congress. Some of the characters were given traits and characteristics derived from these notes.
Our main characters involved here include John Adams (William Daniels), Dr. Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard). Adams, considered “obnoxious and disliked,” was the driving force behind the resolution for independence. Adams and Franklin seemed to have a fascinating relationship played through the film with some good humor.
In opposition to the resolution was Pennsylvania Congressman John Dickinson (Donald Madden). The film does a very good job of creating an air of conflict within the body that builds tension throughout. I found myself unsure of the outcome despite clearly knowing my American history.
As a musical. I would venture to say that most, if not all, of the songs are catchy and entertaining, yet very unmemorable. In fact, as I type this up, none of them are songs that remain in my head. I did enjoy the humorous song “But, Mr. Adams” as performed by Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Roger Sherman (Rex Robbins), and Robert Livingston (John Myhers).
With today’s world as it is, the sequence involving the debate over the slave trade language in the Declaration of Independence was an uncomfortable section to watch. The song, “Molasses to Rum” as sung by South Carolina Congressman Edward Rutledge (John Cullum) was legitimately tragic and spoke to the long time basis for the systematic racism included in the very birth of the USA. While this is one of the scenes that the timing of in history is inaccurate, the movie scene is undoubtedly compelling and powerful and one where the general humor found throughout most of the movie is appropriately suspended.
1776 is engaging and light-hearted, until it isn’t. It does a solid job of balancing these tones and keeping the movie moving at a solid pace. Unfortunately, the music is pedestrian, especially when compared to other musicals (such as Hamilton, a film placed in the same general time frame). Still, much of the film provides a smile and a fun time.