Dovetailing with the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Columbia Tri Star Home Entertainment released the restored, remastered "director's cut" of the musical film, "1776," on July 2.
Musical theatre buffs who knew of the previous laserdisc restoration, which included crumpled and discolored sepia toned footage previously thought lost (the song, "Cool, Cool Considerate Men," for example, and part of "Till Then") will be rushing to stores this week to get their hands on this latest DVD version, which is a more pristine print in full color. The new release reflects director Peter H. Hunt's preferred cut, which trims up some scenes and does not include the previously released Overture (heard on laser disc but not in cinemas).
The DVD also has a commentary track featuring Hunt (who got pressure from producer head Jack Warner to make ruthless cuts, including material deemed too liberal) and screenwriter librettist Peter Stone. Negatives thought to have been burned at Warner's command, resurfaced over the years to allow for the various re-releases.
Audiences in 1969 found 1776, the Broadway musical tale about the creation of the declaration, to be a hopeful tonic during the Vietnam War, and Stone's book is so full of yeasty real-life characters and 11th-hour political conflicts that audiences in revival usually sit on the edges of their seats wondering if the document will be signed by the time the curtain falls.
In a rare feat of casting, the picture uses most of the principals and secondary actors from the Broadway original, including William Daniels as an inflammatory John Adams, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson, Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin, Ron Holgate as Richard Henry Lee, Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams, and more. The Broadway original ran 1,217 performances and is a perennial in stock, amateur and regional theatre. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy.
Part fanciful history, part musical comedy, part Cliff's Notes of American rhetoric, the picture was not a smash, but has found a large fan base over the years. The restored director's cut features digitally mastered audio and video, along with a widescreen presentation that preserves the theatrical aspect ratio.
According to Columbia TriStar, it also includes more than 20 minutes of footage originally cut from the film's 1972 theatrical release — including the musical number "Cool, Cool Considerate Men," which concerns the objections of the Southern conservatives (who want references to slavery struck from the declaration).
The DVD also offers screen tests for the leading roles, production notes (including a keepsake booklet).
The picture also stars Donald Madden, David Ford, John Cullum (as the outrageous Southerner Edward Rutledge, who sings "Molasses to Rum") and Blythe Danner (as Martha Jefferson). Musical numbers are choreographed by Onna White. Music and lyrics are by Sherman Edwards, who had the original idea for the show). Jack L. Warner produced. Peter H. Hunt, who helmed the Broadway original, directed the picture.
The film on DVD runs 166 minutes; the previous laserdisc ran about 180 minutes, meaning Hunt streamlined the storytelling to reflect the director's cut.
The Broadway musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1969. Hunt won as Best Director. Holgate took home the Best Featured Actor (Musical) Tony and Virginia Vestoff was nommed as Best Featured Actress (Musical) for playing Abigail Adams.
The score includes "Sit Down, John," "The Lees of Virginia," "But, Mr. Adams," "He Plays the Violin," "Momma, Look Sharp," "The Egg," "Yours, Yours, Yours," "Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve" and "Is Anybody There?"
— By Kenneth Jones