Based on the hit musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, 1776 tells the story of the struggle toward independence. In May of 1776, British armed forces are preparing a significant attack against the colony of New York. Under the command of General George Washington, the Continental Army has been battling British forces as best they can for over a year, but they are near collapse.
Meanwhile, fiery John Adams (William Daniels) of Massachusetts, is trying to push the Continental Congress toward independence, but he finds himself continually frustrated. While he has the support of elder statesman Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva), Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) and John Hancock (David Ford), their efforts are blocked, largely due to Congress’ dislike for Adam’s persistence.
Though the young Jefferson is anxious to get home to his wife Martha (Blythe Danner) in Virginia, he is persuaded to stay in Philadelphia, and draft a declaration that clearly spells out the grievances the colonists have against King George. Though he agrees to stay, Jefferson so longs for his wife, that he develops a severe case of writer’s block. Ben Franklin, understanding carnal desire, has Martha brought to Philadelphia. As you might imagine this leads to several funny moments, and a couple of 20th century quips. Adams, of course, is married to Abigail (Virginia Vestoff), but she is back in Massachusetts attending to their farm and their children. As is well known, they communicated faithfully by letter, and those are used in scenes here, as if the couple were in the same room together.
Much of the cast was in the original Broadway show. William Daniels does a very good job as John Adams. Able to aptly handle the singing demands of the role, he also convincingly conveys Adams’ political convictions, while also humanizing him through the poignant letters he shared with his wife. Howard da Silva—blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950’s as a result of McCarthyism—brought his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin from stage to screen. For Ken Howard, best known for his work on television, his portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was his first leading role in film. All of the actors play their roles commendably, recreating the feel of the times quite well. Admittedly, I can’t say I found any of the songs to be particularly memorable.
Framed at 2:35:1, Sony’s new 4K restoration looks absolutely outstanding. The picture is sharp, and highly detailed throughout. The color timing is beyond reproach, and blacks are deep and inky. Shadow detail is above average, and contrast is perfectly dialed in. An appropriate level of film grain has been maintained, and no damage is evident throughout.
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 audio is just as solid as the video. The musical numbers reveal outstanding fidelity and proper separation. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout. No distortions, hisses, pops, or others issues are apparent.
English and English SDH subtitles are included. English subtitles are available for the commentary tracks, as well.
The follow extras are available:
- Director’s Cut of the Film (HD, 2:45:11)
- Extended Cut (HD, 2:47:55)
- Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hunt, and Actors Ken Howard and William Daniels: Newly recorded for this release, all three sit together for a running commentary. While Howard, and Daniels chime in occasionally, Hunt dominates the proceedings. Hunt provides lots of details regarding the shoot, cast, locations, cinematography, songs, production, and more, while the actors provide some memories.
- Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hunt and Writer Peter Stone: Recorded for the 2002 DVD release, and heard on the Director’s Cut, the two men discuss the restoration of the Director’s Cut, the cast, characters, locations, story, and sets.
- Three Deleted / Alternate Scenes: Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” (3:20), “Reprise of Lee of Old Virginia” (1:12) and “Privy” (0:54). “Piddle” extends a surviving musical number, while “Reprise” gives us a brief return of another song. “Privy” provides a slightly different version of a scene in the Director’s Cut. “Piddle” and “Lees” can be viewed with or without commentary from Hunt.
- Screen Tests: “William Daniels as John Adams” (1:13), “William Daniels and Howard Da Silva as John Adams and Benjamin Franklin” (3:13), “William Hansen as Caesar Rodney” (1:40), “Patrick Hines as Samuel Chase” (1:06), “Daniel Keyes as Josiah Bartlett” (1:07), “Leo Leyden as George Reed” (0:36), “Ray Middleton as Colonel Thomas McKean” (1:55), “James Noble as Rev. John Witherspoon” (1:26) and “Rex Robbins as Roger Sherman” (1:14).
- Teaser Trailer (1:00)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3:12)
- UltraViolet Copy