“‘Mr. Secretary, is the Declaration ready to be signed?’ ‘It is.’” The date is July 4, 1776. John Hancock signs the document first. One by one, the delegates of the Second Continental Congress are called up to add their own signature. The liberty bell rings dramatically and ominously in the distance, adding to the chilling tone that contrasts the humorous nature of the rest of the movie. John Adams, the Massachusetts delegate who pushed for the document to be written, is third to make his mark on the Declaration. After a year of working and debating, the colonies- no, states, have finally declared independence from England. But just how did they do it? 1776, directed by Peter Stone with music by Sherman Edwards, tells of John Adams’ and the Second Continental Congresses wonderfully entertaining struggle towards independence.
One would think portraying John Adams, a man who was thought of as cold and conceited in his time, as a protagonist would be hard. Even in the movie, Adams describes himself as “obnoxious and disliked.” Lead actor William Daniels makes it look easy. Daniels’ performance perfectly displays the ornery aspects of Adams’ character while still remaining likeable. Daniels says, when asked in an interview with AVClub, if he was excited about doing a film version of the hit 1969 musical, “It was interesting, because I was surprised I got the role.” It's relieving that he did get the role, since his portrayal of Adams is something nobody else could ever achieve. Howard Da Silva, the actor playing Benjamin Franklin, does something similar for his character. He takes Franklin, a renowned polymath, and adds a comedic, witty spin, all while keeping the character wise.
The soundtrack of this film is . Throughout the film, you may find yourself bouncing in your seat to the upbeat “But Mr. Adams” or “The Lees of Old Virginia.” If you like slower, calmer songs, you might sway to the sweet tones of Abigail Adams’ (Virginia Vestoff’s) voice in “Yours, Yours, Yours.” Perhaps you like more ferocious songs, and will be singing along to the loud, rambunctious chorus parts in “Sit Down, John” or “Cool Cool Considerate Men.” Even the overture playing on the title screen is enrapturing, immediately pulling you into the Revolutionary era.
Another thing that pulls you straight into the Revolutionary era are the costumes. The ladies both wear their skirts and corsets, though Martha Jefferson, a Virginian woman married to Thomas Jefferson,wears an extravagant, full, pink dress. Abigail Adams, on the other hand, a Massachusetts woman, wears a simpler, light colored dress. This clearly distinguishes the origins of the two ladies. The same goes for the men. They all wear waistcoats and cravats. However, John Adams, a Bostonian, wears a plain brown ensemble. Richard Henry Lee, a wealthy Virginian from a famous family, wears a bright red outfit with patterns and frills. This subtly adds to the accuracy of the of the different styles of clothing in each state.
1776 is far different from the stuffy documentary that presents our founding fathers as heroic, courageous figures. It's a comedic musical movie, one that excites and entertains throughout. Reviewer Lynnette Porter from Popmatters.com writes, “1776 illustrates that the United States’ Founding Fathers, and the army of itinerant soldiers they commanded, were flesh-and-blood people,” and I wholeheartedly agree. After watching, you'll be wondering why the history books don't use a portrait of the lovably “obnoxious and disliked” William Daniels version of John Adams, rather than the plain, two-dimensional one they use instead.