4 July 2009 | bkoganbing
"Our Lives, Our Fortunes, And Our Sacred Honor"
Probably even before the musical 1776 finished its run on Broadway of 1217 performances from 1969 to 1972 this film was getting ready for release. The musical won a Tony Award for being the best in that category for Broadway and a pity it wasn't similarly honored by the Academy. All it received was a nomination for cinematography.
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.