All Time Favorites: 1776 (Columbia Pictures, 1972 PG)

July 3, 2008

In honor of our country’s birthday, this “All Time Favorites” post is in honor of 1776.  Now, when I first saw this movie, I wasn’t too thrilled with it.  Not because of the plot, not even because of the music, a lot of which I liked, but because of the cinematography.  I found it trying to be a little too artistic at times with many unnecessary jump cuts.  I wonder how many people get turned off to a movie simply because of the way it was shot and edited?

Well, about six years ago, I caught it on STARZ, and found myself thoroughly engrossed by it.  I watched it again a few days later, when I was able to see it from the beginning, and found myself completely taken with it.  1776, I should remind you is indeed a movie musical.  It seems an unlikely subject:  the process of getting our Declaration of Independence ratified and signed doesn’t lend itself easily to song, but Sherman Edwards (who wrote the hit song “See You in September”) made it work.  I love the “Lee’s of Old Virginia”‘s bounce, and the disarming “He Plays the Violin”.  Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a bad song in the score.  Hey, even THE PRICE IS RIGHT used the overture in patriotic Showcases every once in a while.

But more than the music, I LOVE the dialogue.  This is no glorified portrayal of our founding fathers.  Oh, no.  The Founding Fathers are portrayed as very real, very human, and occasionally, very funny.   There are several running gags that make me laugh every time.  For example, each time a critical question comes up, at least until the critical moment, New York’s delegate always abstains from deciding, causing John Hancock to lose his temper.  Another favorite is people commenting on Ben Franklin’s words of wisdom.  We’re informed early on that this will be no recitation of Poor Richard’s Almanack when John Adams tells Ben that he’s got better things to do than listen to Ben quote himself.  During a heated debate, John Dickinson begs Franklin not to start talking, or else everyone will fall asleep.

There’s also real tension here.  In my last article, I mentioned that if a script is well written, then you can watch the movie over and over and be rewarded with the same dramatic tension over and over.  That’s here in 1776, as well.  As each calendar page is ripped from the wall, you start to wonder if a consensus will ever arrive.  You also look at the tote board and start to wonder if Pennsylvania will ever allow the ratification, or if New York will ever make a decision.  That’s just great movie making by any standard.

I should point out that this movie is rated a very strong PG for its language and references.  But that is understandable, as the writers wanted the delegates to be human, not saints.  That reminds me of another favorite moment.  ben and John Adams discuss how they’ll be remembered.  Adams seems convinced that history books will make the Declaration of Independence seem like a Biblical miracle, thanks to Ben Franklin’s lightning rod.  Ben’s reaction?  “I like that!”.  So, if you’re looking for something a little different to watch this Independence Day, then I highly recommend this great movie musical.


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