Independence Day Films

Independence Day is almost here (it kind of sucks that it falls on a Wednesday, but whatcha gonna do; Burton Crane does not have dibs on that catchphrase!). If you’re the type of person who enjoys barbecues, activity, and sunlight, then what are you doing reading a TV-centric blog? If your idea of a holiday is a day on the couch only interrupted by periodic bathroom and kitchen breaks, then I have some viewing suggestions.

There are a wide array of marathons to choose from (The Twilight ZoneI Love LucyNCIS, etc.). I am sure that I will be sampling a little bit from tables A, B, C, and beyond. Still, it’s a day for flags and fireworks and the like, and lest you think I am not without some love for our country, I recommend two selections appropriate for the day.

For the past few years, Turner Classic Movies has featured the film adaptation of the Broadway musical 1776 and James Cagney’s Academy Award winning performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy on the Fourth. These are two very enjoyable movies for very different reasons.

1776 details the days leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Many a tune is memorable, but what truly makes this piece the stuff of musical theater legend is Peter Stone’s book. When you’re sitting in front of your HD TV in the country the characters are trying to found and you’re worried that the United States will never come into existence, you have a writer working at the height of his powers. Most of the original Broadway cast is intact, and that’s an added bonus. William Daniels gets the role of his career as an idealistic (and occasionally obnoxious) John Adams. Howard Da Silva and Ken Howard perfectly compliment him as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. John Cullum, a replacement in the original stage production, gets arguably the most powerful number of the piece as South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge. And while a young Blythe Danner is pretty to look at as Martha Jefferson, it’s Virginia Vestoff’s Abigail Adams that is the heart of the film (try not to cry when she tells Adams in her last letter that the saltpeter has finally arrived). Check it out on Wednesday at 5pm EST. You will not be sorry.

Immediately following is another musical, Yankee Doodle Dandy. This is the story of Broadway’s man of all hats, George M. Cohan. The film follows Cohan from his days in his family’s vaudeville act to his status as the King of Broadway. Along the way he marries the pretty Mary, has one success after another, comes out of retirement for one more stage triumph, and receives a Congressional Gold Medal. A good story to be sure, but unintentional laughs abound. See Cohan turn an offhanded comment about living 45 minutes from Broadway into a song of the same name between acts. Scratch your head at his crazed objections when his aging parents just want to stop performing. Watch a retired Cohan accosted by the goofiest group of teens this side of a school scare film. And when that pretty little Mary morphs into something of a mega bitch in the film’s final act, all bets are off. Seriously, there are some impressive production numbers, and Cagney is great in a role far removed from the tough guys he usually played. But Yankee Doodle Dandy is also a campy treat. Enjoy it, and try not to think about having to return to work on Thursday.

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