Thursday, July 05, 2007

'1776' Redux

At the end of a lazily decadent July 4th holiday – much of it spent chomping down hot dogs and watching my beloved Astros get pounded by the Phillies – I sat down to watch 1776 on Turner Classic Movies. I had vague memories of seeing the 1972 musical back during its original theatrical run, and even vaguer recollections of being none too impressed. Nevertheless, I tuned in – partly because I had nothing better to do, but also because I’d heard rumors that the movie (one of the last Old Hollywood musicals based on Broadway hits) had been substantially improved by the restoration of scenes and songs that had deleted by producer Jack Warner (at the insistence, according to Hollywood legend, of no less a notable than Richard Nixon) before its ’72 release.

Alll I can say is: I’m glad I made the effort. Mind you, 1776 still is something less than an unadulterated masterwork. (Although director Peter H. Hunt manages some impressive wide-screen compositions, he’s a tad too literal-minded in some aspects of his stage-to-screen translation.) Taken as a whole, however, the movie is wonderfully entertaining – and, better still, undeniably inspiring -- as it offers an intelligently yet playfully romanticized account of events leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But wait, there’s more: The cast includes most of the major players from the original 1969 Broadway ensemble – including William Daniels (John Adams), Howard Da Silva (Benjamin Franklin) and Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson), all at their finest – along with an absolutely luminescent Blythe Danner (who was pregnant with Gwyneth Paltrow during filming) as Martha Jefferson. And the heated debates over individual rights and tyrannical rulers is, alas, every bit as relevant today as in 1776 or 1972.

I can easily see how this restored 1776 might eventually become a holiday season staple (much like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story) over years and years of TV reruns. For some background on the restoration, along with fair appraisals of the movie itself, see here (at the end of a review of the 1997 New York stage revival) and here.

2 comments:

Bob said...

Great to see you jumping on the 1776 bandwagon, Joe. This movie has been a sort of favorite borderline guilty pleasure/actual favorite of mine since I first saw it as a kid -- and I've been surprised over the years by how many sort of secret fans the film has.

It's a great show with first rate (but occasionally slightly cheesey) music hampered by a less than inspired transition to film, but a wonderful history lesson. And the acting really is great -- except for some moments of yelling to to back row.

However, as I understand it, the only significant change (the only change?) in the present version is inclusion of the "Cool, Cool Conservative Men" number, which was infamously deleted by Jack Warner at the request of Richard Nixon.

Joe Leydon said...

The original 1972 theatrical release clocked in at 142 minutes (according to IMDB.com). There was a 180-minute version available for a while on laserdisc. And, more recently, the 168-minute version on DVD and Turner Movie Classics. Sounds to me that more than a single number got trimmed. But how much more, I do not know.