Friday, July 2, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #92

92. 1776 (1972)

This is a classic musical and a great movie that is perfect for this time of year and any other day. The musical was the concept of a former history teacher-turned-songwriter Sherman Edwards. Edwards had a big hit early in his songwriting career with the song "Wonderful, Wonderful" for Johnny Mathis. After that, he wanted to sell his idea for a new musical to a producer. His idea was to musicalize the story of the creation of the most important document in American History, the Declaration of Independence. He was turned down several times until producer Stuart Ostrow sent him to librettist Peter Stone. Ostrow felt Stone could help Edwards flesh out the story and characters better. What resulted, after a rough out-of-town tryout, was one of the most well-received musicals of the decade when the show opened on Broadway in 1969. It received several awards for Best Musical, including the Tony Award (beating another landmark show, Hair). A film version became inevitable.

Jack Warner, who in 1967 had been forced out of his old company of Warner Brothers, bought the film rights to the musical for Columbia Pictures. He did the unheard of (especially for him) in retaining most of the original Broadway cast and asking the Broadway director, Peter Hunt, to direct the film. He also retained Peter Stone to adapt his Broadway libretto into the screenplay. The film was made outside Los Angeles in 1971 and was completed just before the new year. Once edited, it was shown to President Richard Nixon, who had enjoyed most of the stage production. But Nixon was unpleased with one particular scene and Warner decided to go in and re-edit the film. When released in 1972, the film (with Warner's re-edits) was somewhat well-received by critics, but was quickly forgotten thanks to edgier films out in theaters (like The Godfather, Cabaret and Deliverance).

But thanks to occasional 4th of July TV showings and a life on video (and eventually DVD), the film has become a favorite for many people who have never been exposed to it before. And thanks to the stage production being performed nationwide in regional theaters, people's familiarity with the musical has given them interest in discovering the film version. The DVD is a must have not only because it restores Peter Hunt's original cut of the film (restoring scenes and sequences that had been cut by Jack Warner) but because of the commentary by Hunt and the late Peter Stone. Peter Stone was one of the most knowledgeable people about entertainment and his wisdom shines through his commentary (especially the back stories of Hollywood and Broadway). Note: Turner Classic Movies shows the Director's cut edition of this film every July 4th (check your listings!).

Next Post: #91

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