1776: The Restored Director’s Cut, while not yet available on Blu-ray, is thankfully available on Standard DVD. Though based on the popular Broadway show with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone (who also wrote the screenplay here), the film was not well received at the time of its release. This type of Hollywood musical was in its death throes by the early 70’s to make room for more “realistic” musical fare like CABARET (which beat out 1776 at the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture and Best Cinematography).

But now, lo these many years later, 1776 has found its fans and is slowly being recognized for the extraordinary film/musical that it is. Cut down substantially in its initial release by producer Jack Warner, the film was extended on its original laserdisc release using found footage of varying quality. However, that release was not considered the desired cut by director Peter Hunt who, after finding better quality materials on the missing footage, restored the film to its current Director’s Cut for DVD. And what a cut it is!

Back is the powerful and frightening number “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” (see below) which was originally cut from the film at the behest of then-president Richard Nixon because he felt the number was an insult to conservatives. Oddly enough, the greed and self-serving nature of the characters in this number rings quite true, perhaps today more than ever.

This is not a musical for those who hope to leave the experience tapping their toes and humming a memorable tune. This is not CATS. Though many of the songs are incredibly fun and filled with terrific episodes of humor, there are also some very dark and disturbing numbers. This is a musical that does not talk down to its audience. The libretto and musical numbers use portions of dialogue and text from actual letters and memoirs of many of the story’s real-life participants. This is also the only musical to sport a more than 30 minute sequence without a single musical number. And it is downright riveting.

William Daniels as John Adams, Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin, and Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson were all members of the original Broadway cast and are simply mesmerizing. They are the centerpiece of the film along with John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina and Donald Madden as John Dickenson of Pennsylvania. The film also treats us to a young and quite dashing Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson.

While this standard definition transfer of the film is a far cry from a true film restoration or offering the kind of clarity and depth of picture and sound that Blu-ray would allow (the print is marred by occasional speckles and scratches and the soundtrack is a bit muffled at times), 1776 is still one of the smartest and most engaging musicals ever made and this Sony Pictures release is, for the moment, the most definitive version currently available. It is presented here in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer.

1776: The Director’s Cut gives us a deep sense of the efforts and struggles, both personal and political, that took place to finally turn this once British colony into the United States of America through the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence.  It is a must-see.

Happy 4th everyone.


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