1776 Blu-ray review
The film industry, rival street gangs, singing Austrian singing families, high school greasers and lions-and-tigers-and-bears-oh-my have all served as the basis for Hollywood musicals. So, too, for some reason, has the founding of the United States of America.
1776 tells about the time leading up to and of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Naturally, the major players are all in line: John Adams (William Daniels, who had appeared in THE GRADUATE as Dustin Hoffman’s father; younger audiences may know him better as Mr. Feeney on BOY MEETS WORLD), Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva, who earned a Tony nomination for his turn in FIORELLO!), Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard, who would later star in television drama WHITE SHADOW), John Dickinson (Donald Madden, in his only film appearance), John Hancock (David Ford, soap opera DARK SHADOWS), Edward Rutledge (John Cullum, who would go on to win two Tonys), Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate, who won a Tony for his turn in the original Broadway production), Stephen Hopkins (Roy Poole, whose TV credits include ANOTHER WORLD and AS THE WORLD TURNS), and a number of others who may have turned up on a middle school social studies quiz.
Of course, there is no suspense about how it will all end, since it’s expected that all 13 colonies will vote yea and the Declaration of Independence will be signed, thus giving America its freedom and permission to watch hot dog eating contests every July 4th. (Surely Benjamin Franklin could give Joey Chestnut a solid run for the crown.) Partly because of this, the history lesson is a remarkably stale one, despite there being over a dozen songs.
Said songs are completely forgettable, even when looking at the list after watching the movie. It would be quite the challenge to be able to hum any of the numbers, let alone name them. (For what it’s worth, song titles include “Sit Down, John,” “The Lee of Old Virginia,” “He Plays the Violin” and “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.” That none of the movie’s tracks were on the American Film Institute’s list of 400 nominees for their 100 Years…100 Songs list might give some idea to the quality and impact of the numbers.)
Although the main cast gives it their all and seems comfortable enough in their wigs and costumes (Daniels especially stands out), they are not enough to bring energy to the story. Neither is the direction by Peter H. Hunt (who helmed the Broadway show), which is stuffy and without flair. It’s one of the few movies your history teacher may have played that would have made you miss the textbook.
The original Broadway production of 1776 may have won the Tony Award for Best Musical (trumping HAIR, PROMISES, PROMISES and ZORBA), but this cinematic adaptation (released in 1972, because apparently Columbia Pictures didn’t have the patience to wait four years and cash in on the bicentennial) stands as one of the least entertaining movies of its kind.
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This 4K transfer presents a stellar picture that offers fine details, accurate colors and an overall clean image. Some grain has remained intact, which will please purists.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English and French. The audio is also strong, with clear dialogue and musical numbers.
Director’s Cut (2:45:11)
Extended Cut (2:47:55)
Audio commentary with Peter H. Hunt, William Daniels & Ken Howard: Available with the Director’s Cut only, this track features the trio reflecting on the production and even the moments in history that inspired the movie.
Audio commentary with Peter H. Hunt & Peter Stone: Available with the Director’s Cut only, this track features Hunt and screenwriter Stone discussing the movie and touching on various production tidbits. A sizeable portion of material is also covered in the other commentary, so fans may find it better to skip around.
Deleted & Alternate Scenes: There are three here, which can only be viewed separately. They are: “Piddle, Twiddle & Resolve,” “Reprise of Lees of Old Virginia” and “Privy.” The first two are available with optional director’s commentary.
Screen Tests (12:52): There are nine here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “William Daniels as John Adams,” “William Daniels and Howard Da Silva as John Adams and Benjamin Franklin,” “William Hansen as Caeser Rodney,” “Patrick Hines as Samuel Chase,” “Daniel Keyes as Josiah Bartlett,” “Leo Leyden as George Read,” “Ray Middleton as Colonel Thomas McKean,” “James Noble as Rev. John Witherspoon” and “Rex Robbins as Roger Sherman.”