• Carrie Specht

1776 Movie Musical at the Aero Theatre, Santa Monica

Tonight, July 3rd at 7:30pm at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica the American Cinematheque presents a restored print of the uncut version of “1776” with a discussion to follow with director Peter H. Hunt. 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 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. William Daniels (“St. Elsewhere”, “Boy Meets World”) stars as John Adams. As one of the songs tells 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 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 who’s 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”, Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom) 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. 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 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 moment of the characters introduction you will believe he is Franklin. Witty, and delightful, Da Silva perfectly balances the rakish old diplomate’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 home town 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 sisters (I don’t think my bother has a copy with him in Afghanistan). I love this film so much I have a DVD that has been signed by both the director and Ken Howard. Some day I hope to get William Daniels to sign it too and then maybe I could ask him for that dance. Happy 4th of July!

The Aero Theatre is located in Santa Monica at 1328 Montana Avenue. Follow this link for more details and to see the official American Cinematheque listing.

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