Even without the rockets red glare, sparks fly in the movie musical “1776”, where the Second Continental Congress sits deliberating. John Adams (William Daniels) and Benjamin Franklin (Howard da Silva) try to coerce the newly married Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) to write the Declaration of Independence. Though Jefferson is burning to get back to his new bride, Franklin reminds him that the pen is mightier than the, uh, sword.
Not only are the music, the lyrics, and the singing outstanding, the dialogue and witty repartees keep your ears busy hanging on to every word, and your eyes soaking in the ambience of the birth of our nation. We also get a front-row seat to watch just how close the little embryo came to being stillborn — a too true historical fact. It was a miracle that the colonies were even persuaded to adopt a resolution for Independence, much less sign their JOHN HANCOCK’S on a declaration. No one wanted to be first in line to be hanged.
The Congress gets dispatches almost daily from Gen. George Washington begging for troops, for money, for munitions, for food, for blankets, for just about anything to keep an army in the field and a soldier’s body and soul together. He begs for at least the minimum requirements to keep the British off their doorsteps — if not exactly pushed off into the Atlantic on boats back to England. As Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson (Ralston Hill) reads out these messages in a dispassionate tone, no one seems to be paying attention to the needs Washington so plaintively addresses. After a long while, Thomson, with a catch in his voice, admits he feels as if Washington is writing to him personally.
The video quality is sadly lacking in this trailer, but it shows much of what you can expect in the movie, which is A LOT.
“Portions of the dialogue and some of the song lyrics were taken directly from the letters and memoirs of the actual participants of the Second Continental Congress. The song score was composed by Sherman Edwards.” (Wikipedia). The production brings out the little-known fact that if the original Declaration of Independence had been carried as written, the question of slavery would have been settled nearly 100 years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. However, South Carolina representative, Edward Rutledge (John Collum), would not accept the clause, going so far as to walk out of the convention, taking the entire South with him.
In a heated argument with John Adams, Rutledge leaps on a table. As he towers over the congregated delegates, he sings “Molasses, to Rum, to Slaves”, the most profound, powerful, and moving performance in a wide range of awesome performances. This man’s voice, attitude, and stance sent an electrifying thrill down my spine, causing the hair on my neck to stand up. In the song, Rutledge challenges John Adams’s insulting superiority over the South’s obsessive dependence upon slavery, asking him who leads in the dance for gold in the Triangle Trade — Charleston, who buys, or Boston who sells? Nowhere on the web (that I can find) is a video of this scene that cracks the whip of guilt over all the colonies, and casts a shadow over an already laboring birth. But I did find the audio. It will still send chills down your spine and should be a clincher as a “must see” on your movie list.
At the risk of showing too much, the following video is at the end of the movie. My purpose here is to celebrate our Independence Day by reminding us of the sacrifices made by Washington and his army, and those men who signed the Declaration of Independence, putting life and livelihood on the line in doing so. As the Liberty Bell tolls, each man comes forward to write his name — on the parchment and on American history. I hope you see the entire movie. I highly recommend it. Just don’t get the extended version. It’s drawn-out and boring.