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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

1776: Review

Of all the films announced so far for the upcoming 2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF), I am particularly interested in seeing the musical 1776, especially since the two male leads (William Daniels and Ken Howard) are suppose to be in attendance. I am aware that not everyone is familiar with this whimsical interpretation of the founding of our country, so I was pleasantly shocked to find it on the festival’s program. All I can say is that the film is a beloved favorite in my family and there isn’t a forth of July that goes by that doesn’t have us all watching it no matter where we may be (one year my brother was in Afghanistan and caught it on the American Forces Network).

This classic historical musical drama is the screen version of the hit Broadway musical, which in turn is based on the story of the founding of the United States of America. You know, the signing of the constitution back in the year 1776 (and the reason for your long holiday weekend). The American declaration of independence may sound like a silly concept for a musical, but I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fun and entertaining this film is. Daniels (St. Elsewhere, Boy Meets World) stars as John Adams. As one of the songs will tell you he’s obnoxious and disliked, but he’s also the heart and soul of the movement for independence. Daniels is absolutely compelling and will tug at your patriotic roots (whether you know you have them or not). His performance is so sincere and even gut wrenching that it’s likely you’ll envision Williams the rest of your life any time the name John Adams is mentioned. I know I do.

The film also stars current Screen Actors Guild president Ken Howard (The White Shadow) as Thomas Jefferson. Young, tall and lean, Howard gives a marvelously understated yet dashing performance as the man whose words are fought over up until the last minute before signing the most important document our country has ever known - he also strikes a handsome figure. Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) plays his wife and sings a charmingly sweet ode to the many talents of her beloved husband. Daniels is given a particularly tender moment during this number when he shyly asks the demure bride to dance. It makes my heart swoon every time I see it. I know most women my age dream of dancing with John Travolta or Patrick Swayze. I dream of waltzing with Daniels in a garden. After seeing this scene you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Completing the main trio of founding fathers is character actor Howard Da Silva (Young Mr. Lincoln, The Blue Dahlia) as Benjamin Franklin. Da Silva’s Franklin is likely to be the most charming and lovable depiction of an historical figure you’ll ever see. Like most of the cast Da Silva performed his role on Broadway as well. And in an instant, from the very moment of the characters introduction you will believe he is Franklin. Witty, and delightful, Da Silva perfectly balances the rakish old diplomat’s playfulness with his cunning intellect. He is silly and whimsical, but do not try to beat him in a debate. You will not win.

The rest of the cast is just as impressive and talented, providing a colorful menagerie of admirable opponents and supporters alike. They also posses some truly powerful vocal chords that will blow you away more than once. Of particular note is the song, “Molasses, to Rum, to Slaves” sung by John Cullum (ER, Northern Exposure) as Edward Rutledge from South Carolina. And Donald Madden (a staple of the soap opera world) as John Dickenson from Pennsylvania is a truly worthy adversary who will none the less win your admiration with his gallant surrender.

Growing up my family had two rituals for celebrating the 4th of July: running the hometown parade and watching 1776. I no longer participate in a parade, but I will be watching 1776 every 4th until the day I die, as will my mother and my siblings. I love this film so much I have a DVD that has been signed by both the director and Ken Howard. Perhaps at the 2015 TCMFF I will have an opportunity to get William Daniels to sign it too, and then maybe I could ask him for that dance. That will give me a very happy 4th of July, even if it is March.

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