Anthony's Film Review
Never before has the history of America's founding been portrayed in a fun and interesting way...
When I was young, I was one of those people who struggled with any kind of history class in school. That included my American history classes in middle school and high school. When it came to subjects that didn't easily engage me, I really needed teachers who taught the subject in memorable ways, or else I would be bored. I say this because I remember a friend in high school whose U.S. history teacher, not the same one I had, engaged his students by showing the historical comedy musical film called 1776. When my friend told me that, I couldn't help but envy him, because that was the sort of history class I wanted to be in. I would never have the luxury of watching 1776 in any history class, but I would finally see it on my own many years later as an adult.
My initial thoughts on the film are what I expected. It definitely is amusing and makes learning about American history a lot more fun. The musical sequences are funny, but there's more to it than that. The story of the days leading up to July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed and officially made the United States of America a brand new nation, is told in a mostly straightforward manner, and the cast play their roles in mostly a serious fashion. The result is a film that, surprisingly, is mostly accurate in historical facts while being light-hearted and entertaining to help make the facts stick.
An early scene in the movie sets that stage well. William Daniels plays John Adams, delegate from the colony of Massachusetts. He is a man who strongly advocates that the 13 American colonies break away from English rule to become independent. But many of the other delegates in the Congress strongly disagree with Adams. Both sides exchange words, but in a rather interesting way. When Adams makes a bold statement, the other men in the room sing to him, "Sit down, John!" This scene is a good example of one that can engage you in history while making you smile at the same time.
Even as the film is a musical, it's primarily a drama with some comedic elements. I would say about 80% of 1776 consists of non-musical scenes, which are done well. The actors deliver solid performances and bring their characters to life. Whether the scene involves a vote to debate Virginia's proposal for national independence or intense discussions on whether slavery should be considered in the decision for independence, this cinematic history lesson does not get boring. I should also mention that the other characters beside John Adams are just as fun to watch and important to the story, including the congressional president John Hancock (played by David Ford), the inventor Benjamin Franklin (played by Howard Da Silva), and the Virginia delegate Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard).
When musical numbers do come up, they complement the non-musical scenes without feeling like a distraction. These scenes also highlight the equally amazing singing skills of some of the actors. If you think characters like Adams and Franklin are great to see in drama, wait until they start singing and dancing. And some of the songs are funny, too. For example, there is one song in which characters discuss who will write the Declaration of Independence, a document that is so important that some are reluctant to be its author. Then there's a short song about what bird will symbolize the new America: Adams suggests the eagle, Jefferson suggests the dove, and Franklin suggests the turkey.
1776 was originally a theatrical stage musical before it was adapted into this 1972 movie. I could definitely see why someone would want to bring the musical to film. It's interesting, funny, and just plain amusing. The cast members are amazing whether they are acting in a drama or singing in a musical, and the two genres blend into each other well enough. Now that I've seen the movie, I have a better idea of what it was like to be in an American history class in high school where the teacher showed the film 1776. The students there must've been thrilled, and hopefully, they didn't leave class thinking that America's Founding Fathers really did some singing and dancing at the Continental Congress.
For more information about 1776, visit the Internet Movie Database.