1776 – A Musical About America That Stands the Test of Time

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.


8 thoughts on “1776 – A Musical About America That Stands the Test of Time

  1. I saw this on Broadway in 1972, but I’ve never seen the movie. I’ll add it to my Netflix queue.

    Happy Independence Day to you and Mike.

    • Hope you had a great Fourth!!! Mine was busy, but fun. Mike and I so want to see some Broadway shows. Our closes real theater is the Fox Theater in Atlanta.

      When I started to post the movie 1776 I was under the impression it was a bicentennial production, but then discovered it was a few years earlier. I saw it with Katie at the theater when it came out. It absolutely bowled me over. I just read Roger Ebert’s review, and I know you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but that guy was full of it. I’ve checked out his reviews periodically and nearly every time I found he had missed the point entirely. How did this guy become such a critical icon? I found him pompous and clueless.

      Mainly I want my reviews to give people enough information about the real heart of the movie to make up their own minds whether to see it or not. I particularly like like little-known movies that are surprisingly good, or well-done old/older movies people might have overlooked. I love being pleasantly surprised. I’ve still got your recommendations on my list. I finished watching the “wrong” version of “Quartet” and enjoyed it. That was the old black and white version doing Somerset Maugham short stories — like those great black and white O’Henry stories.

      • You probably get to see some good shows because surely Atltanta is a stop for the touring companies. I’ve never been an Ebert fan either for the same reasons you mentioned.

        I’ll have to put the “wrong” version of “Quartet” in my Netflix queue. I’ve read all the stories, but I don’t think I’ve seen the movie. I love O’Henry’s stories, too. Love the twist endings most of them have.

        We didn’t do a thing on the 4th except read all day. We were beat. I don’t know if I told you, but we have a 15-year-old boy two days a week to help with the outside work. He’s doing some things with Frank, but when he helps me, I have to supervise closely because he doesn’t know a weed from a beloved plant. But oh my word does he have energy. He was here today and I’m almost too exhausted to type because I worked along side him all day. My knees, my back and even my hands are sore from using pruners all day. I have blisters on top of blisters. Tomorrow Frank and I will mow. It’s one of the things we can still do without help. We’re saving Cody, who will be back Monday, for the things that are more difficult for us. Hes’a really nice young man, very bright and well-spoken.



      • Loved the picture. You have a very nice place. And that looks like a very nice young man. You are lucky to get him.

        And speaking of movies, Mike and I watched “The Artist” this afternoon. LOVED it. And I’m not even a silent movie aficionado. I never did like Charlie Chaplin movies. (Not that I date that far back, you understand. Ha). The real artist was whoever wrote and put that movie together. It deserved the accolades. Thanks for giving me a heads-up on it.

        We had a disturbing morning. My son Henry was sharpening a knife and the knife slipped. It took 28 stitches to sew him up. He bled out pretty badly. Passed out a couple of times. Doctors said it sliced deep enough to hit an artery. It was all just about over before Mike and I even knew about it. Tammy had to drive and keep a towel around his hand the whole way so she said there hadn’t been time to call until later. Just realizing he could easily have bled to death was not a pleasant feeling. Spending a couple of hours with that black and white movie later this evening helped lower my blood pressure. I just hope Henry listens to Tammy and takes care of himself. He’s not good at doing that. I may have to smack him up side the head to show him how much I love him.

        Have a good evening and please remember a little prayer for Henry. And my nerves.

      • As you’ve said so often to me…I just KNEW you’d love “The Artist.” I thought it was insanely clever and I’m not a fan of silent films either. Frank LOVES them. He can’t get enough of them.

        “The real artist was whoever wrote and put that movie together.”

        That was the director/writer, Michel Hazanavicius. He’s married to Bérénice Bejo, who played Peppy Miller. He speaks very little English, but the cast members have good English. I’ve seen them on talk shows.

        How dreadful about your son’s accident with the knife. Did he cut his hand or arm? Did he hit any tendons? My mother had a terrible cut between her thumb and first finger years ago and it cut the tendon and nerve. It was YEARS before she could move her thumb properly and nearly as long before she had feeling in it. I hope this wasn’t the case with Henry. I’ll be thinking of him and I hope he has a speedy recovery….AND takes care of the wound propertly. If so, you’ll only have to give him a love pat and not a smack to the head. :>)

      • What a neat bit of trivia about the writer/director being the husband of the actress. Yes, it was a great movie.

        Henry sliced between the thumb and forefinger, but apparently did not slice the tendon. They were worried about that, but Henry showed them he could move the thumb. He and Tammy stopped by a few minutes ago to borrow some antibiotic cream to re-bandage. I have a weak stomach for wounds so only glanced and my stomach dropped to my toes. But he is doing well, talking alright, and says he will behave. Uh-huh. We’ll see. Maybe no smacking. Ha.

      • As much as you and Mike enjoy movies, you should put http://www.imdb.com/ on your favorites list. It is the Internet Movie Data Base and has absolutely everything about movies, TV shows, casts, crew, trailers, photos, trivia…you name it. I visit the site almost as much as Google.

        Hmm, sounds like Henry did the same thing my mother did, but thank goodness he didn’t damage nerves or tendons. I know what you mean about your stomach dropping to your toes. I’m OK with injuries to other people, but I come close to fainting if I injure myself, especially my hands. I immediately get light-headed.


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