Mutant Reviewers

1776 [retro review]

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“This is a revolution, dammit! We’re going to have to offend SOMEbody!”

The Scoop: 1972 G, directed by Peter H. Hunt and starring William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Ken Howard, and David Ford

Tagline: The Award Winning Musical Comes To The Screen!

Summary Capsule: Founding Fathers quibble, make love AND war, and get drunk very early in the morning. It makes ya proud to be an American.

Justin’s Rating: I have the Right To Cinematic Critiquing

Justin’s Review: Yes, this is a musical. A musical about politics and government, normally two things I steer away from unless I’m feeling a bit guilty that I’m not as wise about the matters of the world as I should be. Then I go on a one-week C-SPAN binge until all traces of caring about any greater situation than if someone is actively bombing my apartment complex are completely forgotten, and I can return to playing video games where I run very successful governments, set in the year 2876, and which involve the widespread use of superatomic warfare if I’ve had a bad day.

The reason I saw 1776 was that this was one of those albums that my mom felt she had to play a quadrillion times in a tightly-locked car when I was growing up. Trust me, it was much better before she moved into her “Garth Brooks is God” phase, and I had to repeatedly insert small, sharp objects into my eardrums daily. I don’t know why parents do this, but I sincerely look forward to the day that I can make my kids suffer by playing Toto non-stop in the car until I’m as uncool to them as homework. So anyway, I knew — and still know — all the lyrics to all the songs way before I ever saw the film. Seeing as how they involved some levels of musical swearing and it was all rather catchy, I eventually got around to watching this film, so that’s how that happened.

Seeing how revisionists and political correctness and the ever-present “new discoveries” of America’s past keep changing history on an hourly basis, I’m sure 1776 is regularly laughed at for being so outdated and naive. Hogwash, I say! America’s founding was so far from perfect or ideal as to be nearly outrageous, but that’s sort of why it’s incredibly fascinating — because it happened at all in the first place. The various founding fathers were very interesting characters and harbored some smart buggers among them, but (as would become a national heritage) they hardly ever agreed, they were fallible men who could definitely be petty and emotional, and they had such a passion for their vision of a new country as to be breathtaking. 1776 gives great character to these figures, showing them to be as funny, human and lyrical as the next guy.

1776 starts out in one of the darkest times of America’s prehistory. The colonies have been at war for a year with Britain, but none of the states are at a like mind about anything, including whether they’re at war or not! C’mon, the British are totally making prank calls all the time, ordering 600 pizzas sent to the Continental Congress, who then has to foot the bill… how can you not say they’re at war? In the halls of the emerging congress, bickering and fighting rages on and on without any end in sight. Is the war winnable? Is it possible to unite the colonies in their vision? What about the question of slavery? Can Robert Lee’s ancestor sing a wonderfully silly song about everything in the world taking pride in the Lee name? Absolute-Lee!

Come to think of it, it’s over 225 years later, and the British Empire is still “taxing” me with Rich’s presence. Wowza. That was a bad, bad, bad pun. Yipee for me!

Our key figures are the hot-tempered John Adams (William Daniels), the wise and somewhat drunk Ben Franklin (Howard Da Silva), and the lover and writer Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard). Over the course of the film they work together to forge the Declaration of Independence, which is always nice to have after you’ve started fighting for the actual independaece. Since half of the film takes place in a big room with lots of chairs and very little air conditioning, this would be an intolerable situation if the people didn’t have childish fights and break out into songs every ten minutes or so.

As a musical, 1776 is one of the best if you’re looking for catchy and unique songs. John Adams starts out ranting and the entire congress launches into “Sit down John!”, which discusses the important topics of voting for independence, window opening, and flies. In his exasperation, Adams gives one of the best lines, ever, which is nearly perfect for all my situations: “GOOD GOD, consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse! For no sane man would tolerate it!”

Moving down the soundtrack, there’s a innuendo-laden love song about a man playing his wife’s “fiddle”, The Lee Song, and (my favorite) a tune about America in an egg shell waiting to hatch. Where’s all this singing and dancing today in the House or Senate? C’mon, you know you’d watch the news more if they showed Newt Gengrich, Ted Kennedy, and Dick Cheney breaking into Annie‘s “Tomorrow”, complete with a kick chorus!

1776‘s other major plus is that it’s quite funny if you listen carefully and don’t let the conversations pass you quickly. While looking all prim and proper in Ye Olde Tyme clothes, these people are just hiding the fact that they’re frat boys with a semi-serious job. When Franklin isn’t going off about whoring, he’s got some of the most tongue-in-cheek winning lines (“Softly, John. Your voice is hurting my foot.” is a good one). It reminds us that even the more grave moments of history needed comedians, and with humor in your heart and a song on your tongue, how could you not construct a majestic nation that would some day give birth to Twinkies?

This picture is more fun if you imagine
them all trying to squeak in “dolphin”

Intermission!

Groovy Quotes

Chase: Face facts, Mr. Adams. A handful of disorderly and drunken recruits against the entire British army, the finest musketmen on earth, how can we win? How can we hope to survive?

Adams: She is your wife, isn’t she?
Franklin: Of course she is, look at the way they fit.

Dickinson: Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Lee, Mr. Hopkins, Dr. Franklin, why have you joined this… incendiary little man, this BOSTON radical? This demagogue, this MADMAN?
Adams: Are you calling me a madman, you, you… you FRIBBLE!

Adams: A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair. But no, You sent us Congress! Good God, Sir, was that fair?

Franklin: Calling me an Englishman is like calling an ox a bull: he’s grateful for the honor, but he’d rather have restored what’s rightfully his.
[Laughter from Congress]
Dickinson: When did you first notice they were missing, sir?
[More laughter]

Thomson: [calling for a vote] Where’s Rhode Island?
McNair: Rhode Island’s out visiting the necessary.
Hancock: Well, based on what Rhode Island has consumed, I can’t say I’m surprised. Come back to him, Mr. Thompson.
Thomson: Rhode Island passes.
[Roar of laughter from the Congress]

Hopkins: Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!

Adams: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!

Franklin: What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a great man before?

Franklin: Softly, John. Your voice is hurting my foot.

Adams: He has a whole week! The world was created in a week!
Jefferson: Someday you must tell me how you did it.
Adams: Disgusting.

Dickinson: Don’t forget that most men would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.

Franklin: Treason is a charge used by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.
Adams: I have better things to do than stand here listening to you quote yourself.
Franklin: Aw, that was a new one.

Adams: Now! Will you be a patriot? Or a lover?
Jefferson: A lover.

Adams: God help us.
Franklin: Oh, he will, John. He will.

Franklin: Revolutions come into this world like bastard children. Half improvised and half compromised.

Adams: This is a revolution, dammit! We’re going to have to offend SOMEbody!

Adams: Not them, Franklin. Us! Standing out here, waiting for them to… I mean, what will people think?
Franklin: Don’t worry, John. The history books will clean it up.
Adams: Hmm… Well, I’ll never appear in the history books anyway. Only you. Franklin did this, and Franklin did that, and Franklin did some other damn thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington–fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them, Franklin, Washington and the horse, conducted the entire revolution all by themselves.
Franklin: [pondering] I like it.

Hall: I’m sorry if I startled you. I couldn’t sleep. In trying to resolve my dilemma I remembered something I’d once read, “that a representative owes the People not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion.” [He smiles] It was written by Edmund Burke, a member of the British Parliament.
[He walks to the tally board and changes his ‘nay’ vote to ‘yea’ on independence.]

Adams: Fat George has declared us in rebellion, why in bloody hell can’t they?!

Franklin: Tell me, Mr. Wilson, when you were a judge, how in hell did you ever make a decision?
Wilson: The decisions I made were based on legality and precendent. But there is no legality here, and certainly no precedent.
Franklin: [losing his temper] Because, it’s a new idea, you CLOT! We’ll be making our own precedent!

Adams: They won’t be happy until they remove one of the F’s from Jefferson’s name!

Adams: The Declaration will be a triumph, I tell you a triumph! If I was ever certain of anything, I’m certain of that. A triumph.
[pause]
Adams: And if it isn’t, we still have four days to think of something else.

James Wilson: I’m different from you, John. I’m different from most of the men here. I don’t want to be remembered.

Steven Hopkins: Dear Sir, you are without any doubt, a rogue, a rascal, a villain, a thief, a scoundrel and a mean, dirty, stinking, sniveling, sneaking, pimping, pocket-picking, thrice double-damned no-good son-of-a-bitch. And you sign your name.
Benjamin Franklin: I’ll take a dozen right now.

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