Plot: John Adams (William Daniels) is leading the charge for independence, but the process has been slow and frustrating, not to mention the odds are still against his proposal, even after all of his hard work. He has some supporters, with Ben Franklin (Howard Da Silva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) as his closest allies, but it will take a unanimous vote to approve independence and right now, some of his rivals have dug in their heels. Just before it voted down for good, Adams was given one last chance in the form of a postponement. If Jefferson can draft a rousing declaration, while Adams and Franklin work on turning votes to their side, they just might have a chance, even if only a slight one. But if they fail, a new nation will not be born and the colonies will remain under British control.
Entertainment Value: I love this movie. A musical about the Declaration of Independence is wild enough, let alone one that wades into the minutia of the process and tempered that with bursts of offbeat humor. At one point, there is a super long, rather dull debate that ensues and after an unholy duration of back and forth, the sides agree…to postpone. So 1776 isn’t shy about soaking in historical elements even at the expense of pace and overall fun, but I think that just makes the movie more off the wall and by turn, more memorable. The director’s cut runs just under three hours, which isn’t the complete version of 1776, but it is considered the definitive release and includes the controversial Cool, Considerate Men musical number. The pacing is a little sluggish in stretches, but I never find the movie to be dull and there’s bursts of humor to keep things moving as well. But if you have attention span issues, the three hour duration and slow pace might be a wicked combination. I think for the material and the deliberate approach taken, the pace works well and the music routines and humor ensure things stay on track.
The movie doesn’t scrimp on production values, with lush costumes, set design elements, and all kinds of little touches that make it feel period authentic. I love the costumes, as the suits are so varied and stylish, though some are more pimp and fashionable than others, of course. Blythe Danner’s dress is also beautiful, but most of the costumes are for the male characters, as the congress members are the focus of the narrative. The movie doesn’t visit a lot of locations or sets, but the congress room looks impressive with a lot of great details. The exteriors have good atmosphere as well, with a generally believable period presence. The cast is more than competent in both look and performance, with William Daniels as the lead. He carries the movie well, while Howard Da Silva is also memorable as the humorous Ben Franklin. Blythe Danner has a memorable role as well and is radiant in her time on screen, with other standouts being Donald Madden, Ken Howard, and Roy Poole. The movie has a strange premise, but it works and complete with some oddball moments sprinkled in, 1776 is able to deliver a unique brand of entertainment that earns a high recommendation.