Starring William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Ken Howard, Donald Madden, John Cullum, David Ford, Blythe Danner, Virginia Vestoff, Roy Poole. Directed by Peter H. Hunt. (1972, 166 min). Sony
This musical is probably most remembered as the last hurrah for longtime mogul Jack L. Warner, who purchased the film rights during its successful Broadway run. Unfortunately, 1776 was arguably released ten years too late, when the "new" Hollywood was cranking out such convention-defying fare as The Godfather and Deliverance. Even the few other musicals made during this time, such as Cabaret, were darker & edgier than those of a bygone era. Unsurprisingly, 1776 tanked at the box office.
I seem to vaguely recall seeing parts of it five or six years later, when films were often re-released and I was a teenager who enjoyed theater-hopping at the Southgate Quad Cinema, located within biking distance. As a preteen whose taste in movies leaned more towards Jaws and Star Wars, I was largely unimpressed with musicals, even more-so in this case, since 1776 didn't appear to really be about anything.
Over the years, I developed an appreciation for musicals and the historical context of when they were made. As such, 1776 may not be held in as high regard as West Side Story or The Sound of Music, but despite its slight story (John Adams' attempts to get other members of congress to draft and sign the Declaration of Independence), it's pretty enjoyable. Revisiting the film today on Blu-Ray allows us to appreciate it on its own terms. Though the songs are mostly forgettable, the exuberance of the cast (especially William Daniels as John Adams & Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin) make this an entertaining - highly fictionalized - romp through early American history. Its excessive length leads to some definite lulls (ironically during some of the musical numbers), but for the most part, 1776 is, by turns, funny, sentimental, suspenseful and occasionally rousing.
Despite its old school approach to the musical genre, I have to say its depiction of congress as a batch of argumentative, bureaucratic & clueless buffoons may be more timely today than it was back in ‘72. Maybe there’s still some timely relevance to be found in this largely-forgotten film after all. Regardless, 1776 is well worth revisiting.
- Extended Cut
- Original DVD Commentary with Director Peter H. Hunt & Writer Peter Stone
- New Commentary with Stone, William Daniels & Ken Howard
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes
- Original Screen Tests