July 4: Independence Day–Patriotic Movies, 1776: Peter Hunt’s Screen Version of Broadway Musical

Adapted from the hit 1969 Broadway musical by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards, it stars William Daniels, Ken Howard, and Howard Da Silva, who recreate their Broadway roles.

Set during the first Continental Congress, when the Declaration of Independence was drafted by founding fathers John Adams (Daniels) and Benjamin Franklin (Da Silva), the tale tries to my dry history more accessible by humanizing these iconic figures.

The strategy calls for contemporizing them–particularly the character of Ben Franklin.

Blythe Danner’s character of Martha Jefferson is expanded for the film version in order to allow for an outdoor production number.

After 1776, Jack Warner made only one more film, the 1972 grunge Western “Dirty Little Billy,” which made clearly the fact that he was out of touch with the zeitgeist, after bring in the business for half a century.

Two Versions:

The picture was rated G with its theatrical running time of 141 minutes. It was later expanded to 166 minutes, causing the MPAA to re-rate it into PG (for language) in 1992.



An asterisk (*) indicates actors who were also in the original Broadway cast.

William Daniels as John Adams (MA)*
David Ford as John Hancock (MA)*
Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson (VA)*
Ron Holgate as Richard Henry Lee (VA)*
Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin (PA)*
Donald Madden as John Dickinson (PA)
Emory Bass as James Wilson (PA)*
John Cullum as Edward Rutledge (SC)*
Jonathan Moore as Lyman Hall (GA)*
Roy Poole as Stephen Hopkins (RI)*
Howard Caine as Lewis Morris (NY)
John Myhers as Robert Livingston (NY)
Rex Robbins as Roger Sherman (CT)
William Hansen as Caesar Rodney (DE)
Ray Middleton as Thomas McKean (DE)
Leo Leyden as George Read (DE)
James Noble as Reverend John Witherspoon (NJ)
Charles Rule as Joseph Hewes (NC)*
Patrick Hines as Samuel Chase (MD)
Daniel Keyes as Josiah Bartlett (NH)

Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson
Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams*
Ralston Hill as Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress
William Duell as Andrew McNair, Congressional custodian
Stephen Nathan as Courier


Directed by Peter H. Hunt
Written by Peter Stone
Produced by Jack L. Warner
Cinematography Harry Stradling, Jr.
Edited by Florence Williamson
William H. Ziegler
Music by Sherman Edwards (music and lyrics); Ray Heindorf (music score)
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: November 17, 1972

Running time: 141 minutes (Theatrical); 166 minutes (DVD)
Budget $6 million
Box office $2,800,000 (rentals)

DVD: July 2, 2002

Oscar Nominations:1

Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Jr.

Oscar Context:

The winner was Geoffrey Unsworth who won for lensing another Broadway musical that was adapted to the big screen, Cabaret.