1776 (1972)

G | 140-42 or 148 mins | Musical comedy | November 1972

Director:

Peter H. Hunt

Writer:

Peter Stone

Producer:

Jack L. Warner

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling, Jr.

Production Designer:

George Jenkins

Production Companies:

Jack L. Warner, Columbia Pictures
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HISTORY

The viewed copy was a restored DVD version, released in 2002, which, according to a LAT article at the time of the DVD release, reinstated twenty-five minutes that had been cut from the original release. Within the story, the passage of time is conveyed by the “custodian” tearing each day’s page from a large calendar hanging on the wall in the assembly room. A tally board on the wall listing the names of the colonies is used to clarify each colony’s vote on the various issues depicted in the story, by sliding the name of the colony either to the left or right to indicate an affirmative or negative vote. In the assembly hall, whenever Gen. George Washington’s reports are read aloud to the Congressman, the reading ends with a drum roll in the soundtrack.
       Peter Stone, the play’s author, as well as the film’s screenwriter, was the son of former history teacher-turned-writer and producer John Stone of Fox Studios. Songwriter Sherman Edwards, a former high school history teacher, was credited with conceiving the play as well as writing the music and lyrics. Edwards and Stone researched events prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and endeavored to maintain historical accuracy. However, some liberties were taken, such as the timing of the signing of the document, which actually occurred over several months rather than on one day. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman and Thomas Jefferson formed the Committee of Five to draft the document Jefferson wrote, which was also depicted in the film. Personal details in the film and play, such as ... More Less

The viewed copy was a restored DVD version, released in 2002, which, according to a LAT article at the time of the DVD release, reinstated twenty-five minutes that had been cut from the original release. Within the story, the passage of time is conveyed by the “custodian” tearing each day’s page from a large calendar hanging on the wall in the assembly room. A tally board on the wall listing the names of the colonies is used to clarify each colony’s vote on the various issues depicted in the story, by sliding the name of the colony either to the left or right to indicate an affirmative or negative vote. In the assembly hall, whenever Gen. George Washington’s reports are read aloud to the Congressman, the reading ends with a drum roll in the soundtrack.
       Peter Stone, the play’s author, as well as the film’s screenwriter, was the son of former history teacher-turned-writer and producer John Stone of Fox Studios. Songwriter Sherman Edwards, a former high school history teacher, was credited with conceiving the play as well as writing the music and lyrics. Edwards and Stone researched events prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and endeavored to maintain historical accuracy. However, some liberties were taken, such as the timing of the signing of the document, which actually occurred over several months rather than on one day. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman and Thomas Jefferson formed the Committee of Five to draft the document Jefferson wrote, which was also depicted in the film. Personal details in the film and play, such as “Benjamin Franklin’s” napping and gout, were true. According to modern historical sources, Jefferson did wish to return home to see his wife, but, according to modern sources, she may have been ill at the time. Although the real Caesar Rodney suffered a form of skin cancer and made a last-minute ride from Delaware to Philadelphia, an event depicted on the 1999 Delaware commemorative quarter, he became mortally ill several years later than the period depicted in the film. Judge James Wilson changed his vote, as shown in the film, although his reason for doing so is not known. As shown in the film, the real John Dickinson did not sign the declaration and he did fight in the Continental Army, as he promises in his last speech in the film, and later helped to write the Constitution of the United States.
       Much of the film's dialogue was taken from the writings of the historical figures. For example, the running joke describing “John Adams” as “obnoxious and disliked” were words the real Adams reported to his wife Abigail in his letters. Jefferson’s defense for a written document declaring independence, several of Franklins’ aphorisms and Adams’ comment to Franklin that it would be wrong to remove the anti-slavery passage from the Declaration were lifted from actual writings. The quibble between Adams and Jefferson about the words “inalienable” vs. “unalienable” was also based on fact.
       Stone's musical play opened in New York on 16 Mar 1969, and ran for 1,217 performances. The play won several awards, among them, the Tony Award and New York Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and a Grammy nomination for Best Cast Album. Peter Hunt, who made his directorial debut with the Broadway production, won a Tony Award for Best Director. To some contemporary observers, the success of the play, which had a patriotic theme, came as a surprise, as it opened when the country was divided over the Vietnam War. The London production, which Hunt also staged, was named “Best Play of the Year” by British critics.
       According to an Apr 1969 HR news item, four unnamed, major film companies showed interest in obtaining the film rights for 1776 , for which bidding would begin in May. In Nov 1970, a HR news item reported that Jack L. Warner purchased the rights for the play, which was still running on Broadway and had two touring companies, for $1.25 million plus percentages. A Mar 1971 DV article reported that Warner, the long time president of Warner Bros. who had retired from the studio, bought the film with his own money.
       A Mar 1971 LAHExam news item reported that Warner and Columbia Pictures were teaming up to produce the picture and planning to cast mostly actors from the Broadway production and the national company. Actors who reprised their roles for the film included William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Ken Howard, Roy Poole, David Ford, Ron Holgate, Emory Bass, Ralston Hill, Charles Rule, William Duell, Jonathan Moore and Virginia Vestoff. Noted stage actor John Collum, who portrays “Edward Rutledge,” had been a cast replacement on Broadway in late 1969 and remained in the same stage role for two years. Rex Robbins, Patrick Hines, James Noble, Daniel Keyes, and Leo Leyden had also worked at various times either on Broadway or in touring productions of the show before reprising their roles in the film. New to the film were Blythe Danner as “Martha Jefferson,” Donald Madden as “John Dickinson” and Stephen Nathan, who made his film debut as the “courier” and later became a writer and producer. Hunt, Stone, choreographer Onna White and costume designer Patricia Zipprodt, who had served on the stage production, also worked on the film.
       As noted by New York magazine film critic Judith Crist, the film was a faithful adaptation of the play. However, filmmakers were able to open up outdoor scenes depicting the gardens and city streets of Philadelphia and Adams’ Massachusetts farm. More detailed representation of Independence Hall’s anteroom, staircase and bell tower are presented in the film. Instead of opening with Adams’ speech before the curtain, as in the play, the film opens with Adams in the bell tower and climbing down several staircases to confront his colleagues in the assembly room. Sequences depicting the correspondence between Adams and “Abigail” that are presented in the songs, “Yours, Yours, Yours” and “Is Anybody There?,” which were based on actual correspondence between the real-life couple and Adams’ other writings, were set, according to the play's libretto, in “certain reaches of John Adams' mind.” Within the film, a transition was devised to emulate the technique used onstage, wherein the couple is initially shown talking directly to each other, but in their respective locations, Adams in Philadelphia and Abigail in Massachusetts. However, as the songs progress, the couple is shown together in the same setting, but never touching each other.
       A major difference between the libretto and script was the removal of the song, “Cool, Considerate Men,” which was filmed, according to a Sep 2001 LAT article, but was removed by Warner, who was a friend and campaign supporter of then president Richard M. Nixon. According to the article, Nixon had seen the stage show at a special White House performance in 1970 and, concerned about its negative portrayal of political conservatives who served as antagonists in the story, urged Warner to remove it from the released film. According to the article, Warner wanted the removed footage shredded, because he “did not want history second-guessing” his action; however, editor Florence Williamson surreptitiously kept it intact and placed it in storage. A Jul 2002 LAT article stated that, according to Hunt, Warner told one of his closest friends before he died that he regretted cutting the song.
       According to studio production notes, Independence Hall was built on a Columbia sound stage. The art director, Philadelphia native George Jenkins, used William Birch engravings and other research from the Independence Hall archives to reproduce the building faithfully as it stood in the year 1776. The following information is taken from Hunt and Stone's commentary on the 2002 DVD version: The Independence Hall staircase was built at Columbia’s Gower Studios and these scenes were some of the last to be shot there before Columbia moved from Hollywood to Burbank. Columbia’s Burbank ranch was the location where the cobble-stoned sets representing Chestnut, and intersecting Fifth and Sixth Streets, Independence Square, High Street market and Jefferson’s apartment, all set in Philadelphia, were shot. The Adams farm was shot at the Disney ranch, and many items, such as Jefferson’s actual writing desk, were replicated for the film. Although the large calendar was a facsimile of the calendar hanging in the assembly hall in the year 1776, the tally board, a device used to heighten suspense that was displayed prominently in the play and the film, was not in the original hall. Although the film was originally recorded on multi-track, Warner released the film in monoaural. (However, the DVD restoration combines the original stereo tracks with modern technology.) According to an Oct 1992 LAT article, the film was shot in forty-four days on a $4,000,000 budget.
       Despite a generally lukewarm critical response of the film, the NYT reviewer credited 1776 as the first that he could recall that “treated seriously a magnificent chapter in American history.” According to the LAT review, the film was shown at a benefit performance for University of Southern California on the night before the film opened in Los Angeles. Harry Stradling, Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The film was nominated for Golden Globe Best Motion Picture-Musical Comedy and the Daughters of the American Revolution named 1776 the most outstanding picture of the year.
       As noted in the Oct 1992 LAT article, 1776 was restored for release on LaserDisk by Joseph Caporiccio. The article reported that among the forty minutes cut before the theatrical release of the film was the overture (which included removing all the opening credits except for the title, according to the DVD commentary) and three verses of the song, “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve.” According to Hunt and Stone in their DVD commentary, the title sequence that was restored for the DVD release was shown theatrically only at a Phoenix preview and cut prior to release. They added that, at its release, the only opening credit was the title “1776”, which was possibly placed just as Adams runs down the steps from the bell tower. In the background of the restored title sequence is a panoramic sketch by artist Mentor Huebner that depicts a bustling Colonial street scene, incorporating caricatures of himself and Hunt among the crowd of people.
       1776 marked the final film of Warner, although his film Dirty Little Billy (See Entry), which was produced early in 1971, was released around the same time. Warner died in 1978. In 1973, Hunt and Stone produced, and Hunt directed, the television series Adam’s Rib , which reunited Howard and Danner in the starring roles and was based on the 1949 M-G-M film of the same name (see above). According to Hollywood trade publications as of Sep 2006, producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan were planning a 120-minute adaptation the play 1776 to be aired as part of The Wonderful World of Disney television series. A seven-part television mini-series originally titled 1776 , but renamed John Adams , was produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman for HBO and began airing in Mar 2008. The production was directed by Tom Hooper, written by Kirk Ellis and starred Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as Adams and Abigail Adams. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
29 Mar 1971.
---
Box Office
20 Nov 1972
p. 4542.
Daily Variety
5 May 1969.
---
Daily Variety
10 Nov 1970
p. 1, 6.
Daily Variety
26 Mar 1971
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
8 Nov 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 589-92.
Films and Filming
May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1971
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 1971
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1972.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
26 Mar 1971.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Dec 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Dec 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Oct 1992.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Sep 2001.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Jul 2002
p. 37, 40.
New York
13 Nov 1972
p. 130.
New York Times
10 Nov 1972
p. 18.
QP Herald
21 Apr 1973.
---
Variety
8 Nov 1972
p. 44.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Jack L. Warner Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set const
COSTUMES
Men's cos
MUSIC
Mus supv and cond
Dance mus arr by
Mus ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
DANCE
Mus numbers choreographed by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair styles
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting consultant
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical play 1776 , music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone, based on a conception of Sherman Edwards, produced on the New York stage by Stuart Ostrow (New York, 16 Mar 1969).
SONGS
"Sit Down, John," "The Lees of Old Virginia," "He Plays the Violin," "But, Mr. Adams," "Till Then," "Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve," "Yours, Yours, Yours," "Mama, Look Sharp," "The Egg," "Is Anybody There?" and "Molasses to Rum," music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
1776 the Musical
Release Date:
November 1972
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 9 November 1972
Production Date:
4 October--early December 1971
Copyright Claimant:
Jack L. Warner and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
8 November 1972
Copyright Number:
LP41235
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastman Color
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
140-42 or 148
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23246
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Philadelphia, on 8 May 1776, Massachusetts delegate John Adams urges the Continental Congress to debate whether officially to secede from England. Although many congressmen support the “independency” issue, all are offended by Adams’ frequent tirades and implore him to sit down. Instead, the frustrated Adams leaves the building, but regains his composure by thinking about his wife Abigail, who remains in Massachusetts to manage their farm. In a letter, Adams writes Abby that the king is sending twelve thousand mercenaries to subdue the colonists and asks her to coordinate the neighboring women to make saltpeter to use in the manufacture of gun powder. In her reply, Abby refuses unless Adams agrees to send her sewing pins, which are scarce in wartime. On another day, Adams complains about Congress’ indecisiveness to Ben Franklin, who is one of three delegates from Pennsylvania. Franklin suggests that Adams let someone more popular lead the cause and convinces Richard Henry Lee, a Virginian delegate from an old, influential family, to solicit the support of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Meanwhile, Congress, headed by its president, John Hancock, receives by courier from Gen. George Washington of the Continental Army, frequent, depressing missives, reporting shortages, ill-trained soldiers and the intention of British troops to split the colonies in half at New York. When Lee returns, he presents Virginia’s resolution for independence, but John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, leading the opposition, makes a counter proposal to postpone the issue indefinitely. As Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, calls the roll, six colonies vote in favor of postponement and six against, with one abstention. When Stephen Hopkins, one of three delegates ... +


In Philadelphia, on 8 May 1776, Massachusetts delegate John Adams urges the Continental Congress to debate whether officially to secede from England. Although many congressmen support the “independency” issue, all are offended by Adams’ frequent tirades and implore him to sit down. Instead, the frustrated Adams leaves the building, but regains his composure by thinking about his wife Abigail, who remains in Massachusetts to manage their farm. In a letter, Adams writes Abby that the king is sending twelve thousand mercenaries to subdue the colonists and asks her to coordinate the neighboring women to make saltpeter to use in the manufacture of gun powder. In her reply, Abby refuses unless Adams agrees to send her sewing pins, which are scarce in wartime. On another day, Adams complains about Congress’ indecisiveness to Ben Franklin, who is one of three delegates from Pennsylvania. Franklin suggests that Adams let someone more popular lead the cause and convinces Richard Henry Lee, a Virginian delegate from an old, influential family, to solicit the support of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Meanwhile, Congress, headed by its president, John Hancock, receives by courier from Gen. George Washington of the Continental Army, frequent, depressing missives, reporting shortages, ill-trained soldiers and the intention of British troops to split the colonies in half at New York. When Lee returns, he presents Virginia’s resolution for independence, but John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, leading the opposition, makes a counter proposal to postpone the issue indefinitely. As Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, calls the roll, six colonies vote in favor of postponement and six against, with one abstention. When Stephen Hopkins, one of three delegates from Rhode Island, returns from a brief trip to the privy down the street, he casts the deciding vote to continue the debate. A discussion then commences, in which Dickinson defends England, but other delegates complain about repressions, high taxes and abolished rights and Franklin suggests that America has spawned a new race requiring a new nation. Highly charged emotions temporarily erupt into a brawl, but Hancock restores order. Edward “Ned” Rutledge of South Carolina claims that the South wishes to be ruled neither by England nor the North. Judge James Wilson of Pennsylvania, a toady to Dickinson, timidly suggests that more time is needed. Even Samuel Chase of Maryland, who supports independence, believes the decision must wait until Washington’s military success is assured, to prevent them being hanged as traitors. Adams argues that an army needs inspiration, such as a flag and a purpose, and claims that Americans have “spirit.” To this, Dickinson jeers and calls Adams a “madman,” and the two come to blows, creating havoc. A gunshot fired into the air by a delegate quiets the room and cancer-ridden Caesar Rodney, one third of the Delaware delegation, decries that England is cutting off their air. Rodney then faints and, when revived, realizes he is too ill to remain. Apologizing for leaving Delaware split on this important issue, Rodney departs, aided by Scotsman Thomas McKean, another Delaware delegate. Taking advantage of their absence, Rutledge proposes to end the debate and take the vote. Realizing the cause is lost without Delaware, Franklin stalls for time and is rewarded by the arrival of New Jersey delegates, who support independence. Dickinson proposes that the decision to secede must be unanimous, so that no colony is forced to fight England against its will. On the issue of unanimity, the colonists are again split, but the tie is broken by Hancock who explains that, without agreement, Americans will fight each other in military battles. Knowing that a unanimous vote is impossible, Adams and Franklin ask for postponement until they prepare a written document and, to everyone’s surprise, the usually taciturn Virginian, young Thomas Jefferson, eloquently argues that a document is needed to explain to the world the reason for their action. During the vote, the colonies are again undecided, but Hancock breaks the tie in favor of postponement. A committee is formed by Adams, Franklin, New Yorker Robert Livingston, Connecticut’s Roger Sherman and, against his will, Jefferson, who has been away from home for six months. When deciding who will write the document, all make excuses, leaving Jefferson with the responsibility, although he protests that he “burns” to see his wife. Jefferson then spends the next week unsuccessfully trying to write. Realizing that Jefferson’s “problem” must be solved before the bigger task is achieved, Adams sends for Jefferson’s wife Martha and, when she arrives, the couple retreats from the world to sate their passions. While waiting, Adams conjures Abigail in his mind and imagines talking with her at their farm. The next morning, Franklin and Adams introduce themselves to Martha, who coyly praises the way her husband plays the violin. Meanwhile, Congress carries out mundane duties and McKean returns, predicting that Rodney will never leave home again. To no avail, Adams, Franklin and McKean try to win others to their side. When another dispatch from Washington reports disorder, confusion and an assembly of prostitutes at the New Brunswick army training ground, Adams convinces Chase and Franklin to accompany him to check out the situation. After Congress adjourns that day, custodian Andrew McNair and his assistant visit with the courier, who tells them about his horrific battle experiences. Near the end of June, Thomson reads Jefferson’s draft, as Jefferson paces outside the room. Upon returning, Franklin and Adams report that the soldiers are excellent marksmen who work well together if motivated, and that Chase is persuading the Maryland assembly to approve independence. As they wait for the reading to finish, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams discuss whether a dove, a turkey or an eagle should symbolize the new nation. For several days, delegates make amendments to the document, with Jefferson’s approval and to Adams’ annoyance. When Sherman questions the need to criticize the English Parliament, Adams cries out that they are having a revolution and must offend somebody. On 30 June, Dickinson tries to remove a reference to King George being a tyrant, but this change Jefferson refuses to make. By 1 July, after everyone seems satisfied, Rutledge contests a passage referring to the abolition of slavery. Angrily, Rutledge accuses Northerners of hypocrisy, pointing out that New England ships carried slaves from Africa to the South and, with the other Southerners, abandons the meeting. Just then, Chase returns, announcing that Maryland approves independence. Although his pro-independence colleagues remain demoralized, Adams asks McKean to fetch Rodney from Delaware. After other delegates leave for the evening, Franklin, though against slavery, tells Adams that the offending passage must be forfeited. After an exchange of heated words, Adams climbs to the building’s bell tower and imagines Abby’s words of support. Unexpectedly, a shipment arrives containing several barrels of saltpeter made by Massachusetts women. With new confidence, Adams asks Jefferson to talk to Rutledge and sends Franklin to persuade Wilson. Then, Thomson shows him a message from a discouraged Washington, who asks, “Does anybody care?” Depressed, Adams remains in the assembly room late into the night, wondering whether he is alone in envisioning America’s great future. At Adams' moment of despair, Dr. Lymon Hall of North Carolina reveals that he, too, is in the room. Able to see what Adams sees, Hall has decided to change his vote. On 2 July, after McKean returns with Rodney, Congress commences the vote, knowing that a single “nay” will defeat the issue. Eight colonies vote in favor of the resolution, but Rutledge demands that the slavery passage be removed. Adams wants to object, but Franklin says that nothing else will matter unless independence is secured. Without commenting, Jefferson strikes out the passage, and the Southerners vote favorably. Last is Pennsylvania. Because Franklin is in favor and Dickinson, against, Wilson now realizes that his vote will determine the course of history. After telling Dickinson that he does not want that responsibility, Wilson votes in alignment with the others, and thus the resolution is adopted. Hancock signs the document, but Dickinson, apologizing, abstains. Instead, Dickinson announces he will fight in the Continental Army, but hope for reconciliation with England. On 3 July, Washington is in New York, preparing for battle. On 4 July, Hancock orders McNair to ring the bell, as each delegate signs the Declaration of Independence. +

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Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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