Some people throw burgers on the grill while others take a picnic to the lake or beach, but my 4th of July tradition is watching the musical 1776. I love it; I absolutely love it! William Daniels makes a far sexier John Adams than is seen in portraits of our second president, but he also radiates the prickly dynamism that makes Adams’ letters a lively read 200 years later.
Centering on the debate about independence at the Continental Congress, the movie definitely takes liberties with history, ascribing attitudes and actions to some characters that are based on dramatic appeal rather than fact. But, it’s a musical after all, not a documentary, and is chock full of songs about choosing a national bird (the dove, the turkey, the EAGLE), the ineptitude of Congress and Jefferson’s love life.
Where possible, creators Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards incorporated lines from Adams’ letters into the dialogue and lyrics. For example, In the film Adams says to Ben Franklin: “Franklin smote the ground, and out sprang General Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Then Franklin electrified him with that miraculous lightning-rod of his, and the three of them — Franklin, Washington, and the horse — conducted the entire War for Independence all by themselves.”
The real John Adams wrote to Benjamin Rush in 1790, “The History of our Revolution will be one continued lye [sic] from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electric rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. Then Franklin electrified him… and thence forward those two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislations, and War.”
“I see fireworks!
I see the pageant and pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans — all Americans
Free forever more”
Adams actually wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, saying that “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
The strong thread of John and Abigail Adams’ enduring love affair runs through the film as it did through their lives. They left behind a treasure trove of letters, and their long distance longing for one another is captured in 1776 by having the two talk and sing in soft focus, but never touch because of the distance separating them. John says, “In my last letter…” and Abigail asks him to “Write to me with sentimental effusions,” a phrase the real Abigail penned two centuries ago.
Their songs always end with the romantic words Adams used to sign off in one of his letters to his beloved wife, “I am as I ever was and ever shall be, Yours yours, yours…”
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