DVD release cover
|Directed by||Peter H. Hunt|
|Produced by||Jack L. Warner|
|Written by||Peter Stone|
|Music by||Sherman Edwards|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling Jr.|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Budget||$6 million (est)|
|Box office||$2,800,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
1776 is a 1972 American musical film directed by Peter H. Hunt. The screenplay by Peter Stone was based on the 1969 stage musical of the same name. 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.
While General George Washington is conducting the struggle against the British Empire on the battlefield, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia piddles away its time over trivial matters and cannot even begin debating the question of American independence.
The leader of the independence faction is the abrasive John Adams (William Daniels) of Massachusetts whose continuous pushing of the issue has brought their cause to a complete standstill. John Dickinson (Donald Madden) of Pennsylvania leads the opposition that hopes for reconciliation with England.
During his quieter moments, Adams calls up the image of his wife Abigail Adams (Virginia Vestoff) who resides in Massachusetts and gives him insight and encouragement. Doctor Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) of Pennsylvania suggests another colony that supports independence should submit a proposal.
Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) of Virginia is sent off to Williamsburg to get authorization to propose independence. Weeks later, Lee returns with the resolution, and finally debate on the question begins. After heated discussions, the question is called without a majority of positive votes present. In a move intended to defeat the resolution, Dickinson calls for a vote requiring unanimity for passage, which ends in a tie between the colonies and ultimately being decided in favor of unanimity by Hancock, arguing that any objecting colony would fight for England against independence. Stalling for time to rally support for the resolution, Adams and Franklin call again for a postponement, justifying their call by stating the need for a declaration describing their grievances. Once again tied and ultimately being decided by Hancock, the vote is successfully postponed until such a document can be written.
John Hancock (David Ford), President of the Continental Congress, appoints a committee that includes Adams, Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), who had been planning to return home to Virginia to see his wife, Martha (Blythe Danner). Adams sends for Martha so that the declaration can be prepared by the otherwise-distracted Jefferson. Both Adams and Franklin are quite taken with Martha.
While maneuvering to get the required unanimous majority for the vote on independence, Adams, Franklin and Samuel Chase (Patrick Hines) of Maryland visit the colonial army encamped in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the request of General Washington to help convince Maryland.
Upon returning, the declaration is being read and then subsequently debated and amended. The Southern delegates, led by Edward Rutledge (John Cullum) of South Carolina, walk out of Congress when the slavery clause is not removed. After removing that clause, 11 colonies are in favor, and New York continues to abstain.
The question is now up to the colony of Pennsylvania, whose delegation is polled at Franklin's request. Franklin votes for the declaration, then Dickinson against. The outcome is now in the hands of their fellow Pennsylvanian, Judge James Wilson (Emory Bass). Wilson has always been following Dickinson's lead, but in this case, Wilson votes in favor of the declaration, securing its passage. Finally, with the Declaration of Independence ready to be signed, each colony (including New York) affixes their signature to the Declaration, establishing the United States on July 4, 1776.
- William Daniels as John Adams (MA)
- Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin (PA)
- Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson (VA)
- Donald Madden as John Dickinson (PA)
- John Cullum as Edward Rutledge (SC)
- David Ford as John Hancock (MA)
- Roy Poole as Stephen Hopkins (RI)
- Ron Holgate as Richard Henry Lee (VA)
- Ray Middleton as Thomas McKean (DE)
- William Hansen as Caesar Rodney (DE)
- Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson
- Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams
- Emory Bass as James Wilson (PA)
- Ralston Hill as Charles Thomson
- Howard Caine as Lewis Morris (NY)
- Patrick Hines as Samuel Chase (MD)
- William Duell as Andrew McNair
- Daniel Keyes as Josiah Bartlett (NH)
- Leo Leyden as George Read (DE)
- Stephen Nathan as Courier
- Jonathan Moore as Lyman Hall (GA)
- James Noble as Reverend John Witherspoon (NJ)
- John Myhers as Robert Livingston (NY)
- Rex Robbins as Roger Sherman (CT)
- Charles Rule as Joseph Hewes (NC)
Jack Warner bought the screen rights to the musical for $1.25 million.
Many members of the original Broadway cast, including William Daniels, Ken Howard, John Cullum and Howard Da Silva, reprised their roles for the film. Ralston Hill and Charles Rule also repeated their roles from the Broadway production, marking their only appearances in feature film.
Exteriors were filmed at the Warner Ranch in Burbank, California, the former Columbia Pictures backlot, where they built an entire street of colonial Philadelphia. Most of the colonial sets were destroyed by a fire in the mid-1970s.
The water fountain seen during the musical number "The Lees of Old Virginia," with Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Richard Henry Lee, is best known to current television viewers as the fountain seen at the beginning of the TV show Friends. This fountain still exists directly across the street from the Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie houses.
In its theatrical and original home video releases, the film was rated G; following the restoration of various parts cut by producer Jack Warner, the DVD was rated PG. The Laserdisc version, out of print, contains additional footage and background music not contained on the DVD release. The 168-minute version is considered director Peter Hunt's preferred version, hence its "director's cut" moniker. The film was the Christmas attraction at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
"Cool, Cool, Considerate Men" was cut from the film prior to its release and not included on the soundtrack recording nor on the first VHS tapes and laserdiscs. The footage, some of physically poor quality, was restored for the later laserdisc and DVD releases.
Historical accuracy 
According to The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, historical "[i]naccuracies pervade 1776, though few are very troubling." Because Congress was held in secrecy and there are no contemporary records on the debate over the Declaration of Independence, the authors of the play created the narrative based on later accounts and educated guesses, inventing scenes and dialogue as needed for storytelling purposes. Some of the dialogue was taken from words written, often years or even decades later, by the actual people involved, and rearranged for dramatic effect.
The central departure from history is that the separation from Great Britain was accomplished in two steps: the actual vote for independence came on July 2 with the approval of Lee's resolution of independence. The wording of the Declaration of Independence—the statement to the world as to the reasons necessitating the split—was then debated for three days before being approved on July 4. The vote for independence did not hinge on some passages being removed from the Declaration, as implied in the movie (and the play), since Congress had already voted in favor of independence before debating the Declaration. For the sake of drama, the play's authors combined the two events. In addition, some historians believe that the Declaration was not signed on July 4, as shown in 1776, but was instead signed on August 2, 1776. The authors of 1776 had the delegates sign the Declaration on July 4 for dramatic reasons.
Many characters in 1776 differ from their historical counterparts. Central to the drama is the depiction of John Adams as "obnoxious and disliked". According to biographer David McCullough, however, Adams was one of the most respected members of Congress in 1776. Adams's often-quoted description of himself in Congress as "obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular" is from a letter written forty-six years later in 1822, after his unpopular presidency had likely colored his view of the past. According to McCullough, no delegate described Adams as obnoxious in 1776. Historian Garry Wills earlier made a similar argument, writing that "historians relay John Adams's memories without sufficient skepticism", and that it was Dickinson, not Adams, who was advocating an unpopular position in 1776.
For practical and dramatic purposes, the work does not depict all of the more than 50 members of Congress who were present at the time. This version of John Adams is, in part, a composite character, combining the real Adams with his cousin Samuel Adams, who was in Congress at the time but is not depicted in the play. Although the play depicts Caesar Rodney as an elderly man near death from skin cancer (which would eventually kill him), he was just 47 years old at the time and continued to be very active in the Revolution after signing the Declaration. He was not absent from the voting because of health, however the play is accurate in having him arrive "in the nick of time", having ridden eighty miles the night before (an event depicted on Delaware's 1999 State Quarter) unaided, instead of with the help of another delegate. Further, Richard Henry Lee announces that he is returning to Virginia to serve as governor. He was never governor; his cousin Henry Lee (who is anachronistically called "General 'Lighthorse' Harry Lee", a rank and nickname earned later) did eventually become governor and would also become the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. John Adams was also depicted in the play and the film as disliking Richard Henry Lee. That is not the case as, according to David McCullough, Adams expressed nothing but "respect and admiration for the tall, masterly Virginian." He did, however, contrary to what was portrayed in the play and the film, dislike Benjamin Franklin. Martha Jefferson never traveled to Philadelphia to be with her husband. In fact, she was extremely ill during the summer of 1776, having just endured a miscarriage. The play's authors invented the scene "to show something of the young Jefferson's life without destroying the unity of setting." James Wilson was not the indecisive milquetoast depicted in the play and the movie. The real Wilson, who was not yet a judge in 1776, had been cautious about supporting independence at an earlier date, but he supported the resolution of independence when it came up for a vote. Pennsylvania's deciding swing vote was actually cast by John Morton, who is not depicted in the musical.
The song "Cool Considerate Men" is anachronistic, because, the terms "right" and "left" in politics were not in use until the French Revolution of 1789. John Dickinson, who is portrayed as an antagonist here, was motivated mainly by his Quaker roots and his respect for the British Constitution, having lived in England for 3 years in the 1750s. He was no wealthier than some members of the pro-Independence faction, and freed his slaves in 1777. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution".
The musical also deviates from history in its portrayal of attitudes about slavery. In 1776, after a dramatic debate over slavery, the southern delegates walk out in protest of the Declaration's denunciation of the slave trade, and only support independence when that language was removed from the Declaration. The walkout is fictional, and apparently most delegates, northern and southern, supported the deletion of the clause.
The musical claims that Edward Rutledge led the opposition to the supposedly anti-slavery clause in the original draft of the Declaration. This is false. According to Jefferson, the clause was opposed by South Carolina and Georgia, plus unspecified "northern brethren"; that is the limit of known information about opposition to the clause. Rutledge was a delegate from South Carolina, but there is not one item of evidence in the historical record that he played any part – much less a leadership role – in the opposition to the clause. Ironically, Jefferson never did release his slaves (he was never in a financially secure enough position to do so) but the historical Rutledge did.
Thomas Jefferson is depicted as saying that he has resolved to free his slaves, something he did not do, except for a few slaves freed after his death 50 years later. Franklin claims that he is the founder of an abolitionist organization, but the real Franklin did not become an abolitionist until after the American Revolution, becoming president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1785.
In both the play and the film, John Adams sarcastically predicts that Benjamin Franklin will receive from posterity too great a share of credit for the Revolution. "Franklin smote the ground and out sprang—George Washington.. Fully grown, and on his horse. Franklin then electrified them with his magnificent lightning rod and the three of them—Franklin, Washington, and the horse—conducted the entire Revolution all by themselves." Adams did make a similar comment about Franklin in April 1790, just after Franklin's death, although the mention of the horse was a humorous twist added by the authors of the musical.
Political changes 
The song "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men" depicts Revolutionary War–era conservatives as power-hungry wheedlers focused on maintaining wealth. According to Jack L. Warner, the film's producer and a friend of U.S. President Richard Nixon, Nixon pressured him to cut the song from the 1972 film version of the show, which Warner did. Nixon apparently saw the song as an insult to the conservatives of his time, it suggesting that the conservatives were the ones who were hindering American Independence as they danced a minuet singing the song that included the stanza,
Come ye cool, cool considerate set
We'll dance together to the same minuet
To the right, ever to the right
Never to the left, forever to the right.
To further complicate things as mentioned above, the song is anachronistic, because, the terms "right" and "left" in politics were not coined until the French Revolution. Warner also wanted the original negative of the song shredded, but the film's editor secretly kept it intact. It was only decades later that the song was restored to the film.
Critical reception 
Vincent Canby of The New York Times observed, "The music is resolutely unmemorable. The lyrics sound as if they'd been written by someone high on root beer, and the book is familiar history — compressed here, stretched there — that has been gagged up and paced to Broadway's not inspiring standards. Yet Peter H. Hunt's screen version of 1776 ... insists on being so entertaining and, at times, even moving, that you might as well stop resisting it. This reaction, I suspect, represents a clear triumph of emotional associations over material ... [It] is far from being a landmark of musical cinema, but it is the first film in my memory that comes close to treating seriously a magnificent chapter in the American history."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it two stars and declared, "This is an insult to the real men who were Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the rest ... The performances trapped inside these roles, as you might expect, are fairly dreadful. There are good actors in the movie (especially William Daniels as Adams and Donald Madden as John Dickinson), but they're forced to strut and posture so much that you wonder if they ever scratched or spit or anything ... I can hardly bear to remember the songs, much less discuss them. Perhaps I shouldn't. It is just too damn bad this movie didn't take advantage of its right to the pursuit of happiness."
Awards and nominations 
The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy but lost to Cabaret. Harry Stradling Jr. was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography but lost to Geoffrey Unsworth for Cabaret.
- "Sit Down, John" – Adams and Congress
- "Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve"/"Till Then" – Adams
- "Till Then" – John and Abigail Adams
- "The Lees of Old Virginia" – Lee, Franklin and Adams
- "But, Mr. Adams" – Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Sherman and Livingston
- "Yours, Yours, Yours" – John and Abigail Adams
- "He Plays the Violin" – Martha Jefferson, Franklin and Adams
- "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men" – Dickinson and The Conservatives
- "Mama Look Sharp" – Courier, McNair and Leather Apron
- "The Egg" – Franklin, Adams and Jefferson
- "Molasses to Rum" – Rutledge
- "Compliments" – Abigail Adams
- "Is Anybody There?" – Adams
- Jack Warner to Make '1776' Into a Movie New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 Mar 1971: 29
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- "COLUMBIA TRISTAR PICTURES SONY ENTERTAINMENT CORPORATION | WORLD ELECTRIC NAVIGATION CHALLENGE | SOLAR COLA, COKE, PEPSI, VIRGIN, COCA COLA.". Archived from the original on 2009-07-20. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
- Gary Wayne. "Sunset-Gower Studios (formerly Columbia Studios)". Archived from the original on 2009-07-20. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
- "1776 (1972) - Notes". TCM.com. 1969-03-16. Retrieved 2011-09-07.
- Peter C. Rollins, ed., The Columbia Companion to American History on Film (Columbia University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-231-11222-X), p. 154.
- Stone and Edwards, pp. 153–65, describing the play's historical basis and dramatic license.
- Stone and Edwards, p. 158.
- Letter from Adams to Timothy Pickering, 1822. Adams also described himself as "obnoxious" in his Autobiography, written in 1805.
- McCullough, David. John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), pp. 119–20.
- Wills, Garry. Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (New York: Doubleday, 1978), pp. 349–50.
- Stone and Edwards, p. 162.
- Stone and Edwards, p. 161.
- "Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." Edmund Burke, Select Works of Edmund Burke. A New Imprint of the Payne Edition. Foreword and Biographical Note by Francis Canavan (Indianapolis: :Liberty Fund, 1999). Vol. 4. Chapter: Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/659/20392/1385301 on 2010-04-15.
- Jack Rakove: The Patriot Who Refused to Sign the Declaration of Independence, http://www.historynet.com/the-patriot-who-refused-to-sign-the-declaration-of-independence.htm
- "Student finds letter 'a link to Jefferson' - CNN.com". CNN. December 8, 2009. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: a Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson (1900) by Thomas Jefferson, edited by John P. Foley, p. 246
- Nothing is known of what Rutledge said or did during the Continental Congress, as the Congress was conducted in closed session and its members had made a pact of secrecy. No letters or memoirs have been found in which his participation is specified, and no record has been found as to what Rutledge did or did not say in regard to Jefferson's complaint about the King's freeing of slaves and veto of slave tariffs.See, e.g., Lives of the Presidents of the United States by Robert W. Lincoln (1836), p. 390; Sanderson's Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1846) by John Sanderson and Robert Taylor Conrad, p. 351; The United States Manual of Biography and History by James V. Marshall (1856), p. 115; An Outline of the Political and Social Life of George Washington, Volume 2 (1895) by James Tyson, p. 339.
- Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003).
- Heated Debate About 'Cool' Cut, Los Angeles Times Archives, September 07, 2001, Accessed 2009-05-30
- Canby, Vincent (1972-11-10). "New York Times review". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-09-07.
- "Chicago Sun-Times review". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2011-09-07.