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  • Carrie Specht

Cinema Classic 1776 Available All Over for the Holiday


I absolutely love 1776 for many reasons. First, because it’s a great film filled with terrific performances and fun musical numbers. Secondly, because it’s a huge part of my childhood, prompting a slew of memories surrounding what for a kid is the biggest event of the summer: the 4th of July. William Daniels, Howard De Silva and Ken Howard play three of the founding fathers of the United States of America in the film adaptation of one of Broadway’s most successful musicals, 1776. This film taught me all about the creation of one of the most important documents in our Country’s history.

I grew up watching 1776 every year as a part of our family’s annual July 4th festivities. In fact, we considered the viewing of this holiday specific film a culmination of the day’s events. In the morning we would help my mother run the local parade. After half a day of helping her organize and gather the various participants for what was deemed the longest, shortest parade in the world we returned home for a well-deserved swim in the pool and hot dogs cooked deck-side on a hibachi. In evening we’d scamper onto the roof as the day wore on in order to catch the fireworks set off at the various beaches. And at the end of the day everyone gathered round the TV for 1776.

Year after year I (and everyone else in the family) watched intently as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin struggled to convince the other founding fathers to become just that; creators of a new nation. It didn’t matter that I’d seen the film dozens of times, or that I obviously knew the outcome, I watched 1776 or it just wasn’t the fourth of July for me. And it’s the same for the rest of the family to this very day. Although we’re spread across the country (and even the world) email salutations for the day are always filled with who watched the film when and where. My mother and older sister usually break out their DVD copies, while my twin and I try to catch it in the theater when we can. And last year my brother just happened to catch a telecast on the armed services network while working as a consultant in Afghanistan. I think that’s pretty cool.

Obviously, family traditions die hard, but I don’t want to sell this film short. Apart from my own sentimental feelings it’s a truly entertaining movie suitable for the whole family. In fact it was Jack Warner’s last pet project, one he believed in highly because of its patriotic qualities and family appeal. Warner took the highly successful production from stage to screen, using many of the actors who originated the roles. This decision really comes through in the finely honed performances, creating characters so authentic, and portrayals so compelling that to this day I picture the actor, William Daniels (St. Elsewhere, Boy Meets World) when I think of John Adams. Likewise, every time I see the Screen Actor’s Guild’s current president, Ken Howard (The White Shadow, 30 Rock) I can’t help but think of Thomas Jefferson.

And then there’s the delightful Howard Da Silva as the playfully humorous, yet ever wise Benjamin Franklin. Not to mention a whole bunch of other character actors who do an amazing job not only with the impressive songs, but with conveying the spirit of the real life people they’re portraying. A young John Cullum (Northern Exposure) is particularly fine as a Virginian gentleman who represents the southern opposition to the declaration of independence. His soulful rendition of a song that explains the complicated economical ties the north has to the south is a show stopper. However, it is the little known Donald Madden in his only screen performance who is strikingly powerful as the most obstinate obstacle to Adams and the others. Known for his stage and television soap-opera work, Madden is truly believable as a man who thinks staying with England is the best choice for the colonies. His final scene his heartbreaking.

But don’t take my word for it, see what I mean for yourself. Give 1776 a shot on the big screen and I guarantee you’ll make it a part of your annual holiday festivities too. Your first opportunity comes Sunday, July 1 at 7:30PM the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The American Cinematheque will be screening the all-American classic with the film’s director, Peter H. Hunt on hand to participate in a discussion immediately following the movie. And if you can’t make it Sunday you’ll have a second chance come the afternoon of the 3rd as part of the LACMA’s Tuesday Matinees.