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Movies that are so revolutionary


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Since TCM is airing a few Revolutionary War classics today, I thought I would compose a list of films that focus on colonial life:

 

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DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939). A young couple fights off native attacks to start a farm in the Mohawk Valley. John Ford’s classic features Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert and Edna May Oliver (in her only surviving Technicolor film).

 

THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA (1940). Cary Grant plays a common man who joins Colonial forces in their fight for freedom against England. The twist: he meets his wife’s Royalist relatives on the battlefield.

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THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946). American history is spoofed by Abbott & Costello in this offering. Two ghosts from the Revolutionary War haunt a house until they can clear their names of treason charges.

 

UNCONQUERED (1947). Colonial life DeMille style. An English convict girl sent to the colonies gets mixed up in the war with the natives. Paulette Goddard is the girl and Gary Cooper is her intended in this elaborate period piece from Paramount.

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THE SCARLET COAT (1955). What do you get when you put Cornel Wilde and Anne Francis in a revolutionary tale with glossy MGM production values? This movie.

 

JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957). TCM just aired Walt Disney’s faithful adaptation of Esther Forbes’ Newbery Medal-winning children’s book. The plot concerns a young apprentice who finds himself befriended by the Sons of Liberty and caught up in events of the American Revolution. Hal Stalmaster stars in his one and only film.

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JOHN PAUL JONES (1959). Robert Stack plays the title role. He’s the renowned hero of the Revolutionary War who clashes with Congress. Bette Davis appears in a cameo as Russian empress Catherine the Great.

 

THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (1959). A preacher and a rebel leader change places during the Revolution. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas star in this United Artists release with Laurence Olivier, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play. It’s airing today on TCM.

 

1776 (1972). Also airing on TCM today is the film version based on a Broadway hit musical about the founding fathers’ struggling to draft the Declaration of Independence. At the time of its release, critic Roger Ebert only gave it two stars, but I think it deserves 50 stars.

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REVOLUTION (1985). Al Pacino is a fur trapper who becomes involved in the fight for freedom with his young son.

 

THE PATRIOT (2000). Mel Gibson is a colonial farmer who turns into a rebel leader after his son is murdered by the British. Gibson’s character is a composite, based on the lives of Continental Army officer Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens and other Revolutionary War figures.

 

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Considering how significant the American Revolution was and is in US history, Hollywood made surprisingly few films about it. This may be due to several factors: Not wanting to risk the important UK market; most Revolution films lost money; and a related factor, most of them were terrible movies.

 

DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939). A young couple fights off native attacks to start a farm in the Mohawk Valley. John Ford’s classic features Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert and Edna May Oliver (in her only surviving Technicolor film).
 
Probably the best of them. The Revolution itself is really peripheral -- the enemy we see is mostly Indians, and the chief heavy is actually an American turncoat -- an ingenious gambit also used in de Mille's The Buccaneer.
 
THE SCARLET COAT (1955). What do you get when you put Cornel Wilde and Anne Francis in a revolutionary tale with glossy MGM production values? This movie.
 
I've always felt the Benedict Arnold story deserved a film devoted to it. This isn't it -- Arnold is only a supporting character -- but the location work is great.
 
JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957). TCM just aired Walt Disney’s faithful adaptation of Esther Forbes’ Newbery Medal-winning children’s book. The plot concerns a young apprentice who finds himself befriended by the Sons of Liberty and caught up in events of the American Revolution. Hal Stalmaster stars in his one and only film.
 
Wasn't there a casting director named Lynn Stalmaster? Any relation?
 
JOHN PAUL JONES (1959). Robert Stack plays the title role. He’s the renowned hero of the Revolutionary War who clashes with Congress. Bette Davis appears in a cameo as Russian empress Catherine the Great.
 
This is most interesting for a story told by Mia Farrow, making her film debut (the director was her father) as a 13 year old, and how her one line ("We can use our petticoats sir!") ended up being given to Robert Stack's wife.

 

THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (1959). A preacher and a rebel leader change places during the Revolution. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas star in this United Artists release with Laurence Olivier, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play. It’s airing today on TCM.

 

It's hard to understand why Lancaster made this, as Douglas has the best role and Oliiver the best lines. Burt's role has been beefed up, but he's still third fiddle. Alexander Mackendrick started the film but was fired.

 

1776 (1972). Also airing on TCM today is the film version based on a Broadway hit musical about the founding fathers’ struggling to draft the Declaration of Independence. At the time of its release, critic Roger Ebert only gave it two stars, but I think it deserves 50 stars.

 

Horribly directed with mostly mediocre songs (the cringeworthy "Does Anybody Care" and the even worse "Mama Look Sharp", which would make even the most committed pacifist join the Green Berets). The photography is great though, but the ultimate saving grace is the witty repartee by Peter Stone. I try to watch this at least once a year around the 4th if I can make the time.

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Richard,

 

Thanks for your wonderful comments. I did not know about Mia Farrow's film debut...very interesting. Robert Stack's wife was a leading actress in B films for the first few years of their marriage but then became more of a socialite. 

 

I agree the best of this batch is DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK. I also like UNCONQUERED a lot, which I wish TCM would show. 

 

I would say Howard DaSilva is the best thing about 1776.

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I would say Howard DaSilva is the best thing about 1776.

 

I'll stick with Stone's script as the greatest thing about 1776. But da Silva certainly gives a scene-stealing performance.

 

I once listened to the 1776 commentary track with Peter Stone. Stone told about how during rehearsals for the play he wanted to give John Dickinson, the piece's antagonist, some points instead of just having him be a punching bag for the pro-independence characters. So he gave Dickinson a line ("When did you notice they were missing, sir?") where he tops a joke of Franklin's. da Silva violently objected to this, but Stone stood firm. So da Silva came up with what Stone termed "an actor's solution" -- he had Franklin laugh uproariously at the line himself. Stone kept this in the play, and you can see it in the film.

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The two movies that made the biggest impression on me:

 

Unconquered--(1947)--Don't expect historical authenticity.  Paulette Goddard & Gary Cooper are indentured slave & owner, respectively, in the New World.  Film was known on the Paramount lot as "The Perils of Paulette" as her character had to go over river rapids, be tied up to a stake and tortured with feathers by Indians, be dunked  in a barrel for DeMille's customary bath scene, & hide from Indians under a raging waterfall.  She flatly refused to participate in the film's version of the siege of Fort Pitt, which sent DeMille into a rage.  Also starring Boris Karloff as chief of the Senecas.  Great fun.

 

"Revolution"--(1985)--Absolutely hhoorrrriiiibbbllle film--I made the dreadful mistake of watching the whole movie, thinking it can't possibly get any worse--but it Does!  It Does!

 

The films' best line--"My mouth belongs anywhere I put it! (Pacino yells this , in a New Yawk honk,  at some British soldiers.

 

The Tory sympathizer women all have hairstyles at least three feet high.  I kept waiting for one to topple over and knock someone out.

 

Annie Lennox (of Eurhythmics fame) keeps scrawling "***" on all British" with spray paint--a charming anachronism.

 

Film was deservedly, a box-office disaster.  Film cost 28 million--grossed less than $500,000, domestically.  Film was nominated for 4 Golden Razzberry Awards.  Check Wikipedia.

 

"Revolution" (1985) is for the unaware only  You have been warned.  You thought "Mame" (1974) was bad--times that by 10.

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I think 'REVOLUTION' (1985) was re-worked circa 2009 by Hugh Hudson and Al Pacino.  I believe it was shortened by over 10 minutes and a voice-over narration by Al Pacino was recorded.  This version was released on DVD.   

 

    

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Unconquered (1947) is technically about Pontiac's Rebellion, in 1763 11 forts were besieged by Native Americans in a rebellion against the state of British-Native relations and 9 were taken. 

In my original post, I said I was listing films that focused on colonial life. But thanks for the more specific information!

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A question

 

This is the final shot of 1776:

 

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Can someone tell me the name of the painting this is based on? Or the artists? They're named in the playscript as part of the scene directions, but I no longer have a copy of the play.

Yesterday I watched a few of the episodes of the excellent HBO series John Adams. In the final episode, (ep 7) John Adams meets with Trumbull. Trumbull shows Adams his painting Declaration of Independence. Adams hates the painting and tells him it's

inaccurate.

 

My childhood best friend's brother produced 1776 on Broadway. Next time I speak to my friend I will ask her to ask her brother if he has some info about the painting you're asking about.

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  • 11 months later...

Yesterday I watched a few of the episodes of the excellent HBO series John Adams. In the final episode, (ep 7) John Adams meets with Trumbull. Trumbull shows Adams his painting Declaration of Independence. Adams hates the painting and tells him it's inaccurate.

 

My childhood best friend's brother produced 1776 on Broadway. Next time I speak to my friend I will ask her to ask her brother if he has some info about the painting you're asking about.

It's almost a year later, and TCM's annual Fourth of July programming (and rebroadcast of 1776) is nearly upon us. I hope you found the information you were looking for..!

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Considering how significant the American Revolution was and is in US history, Hollywood made surprisingly few films about it. This may be due to several factors: Not wanting to risk the important UK market; most Revolution films lost money; and a related factor, most of them were terrible movies.

I've been thinking about this comment lately. I wonder if another factor is because the Civil War tends to overshadow the Revolutionary War. And then when Hollywood was making war films in the mid-20th Century the focus was on Germany, Japan, Korea and later Vietnam. 

 

Imagine if films (fiction and nonfiction) had been made in the 1700s, what we might now be looking at on screen!

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Silly little tidbit to add here.

 

Hollywood with its strongly Jewish mogul control seems to have been at its most "Revolutionary" during the thirties, probably in an attempt to make the industry "fit in" with the rest of America in an era when antisemitism was on the rise overseas in Germany and even at home (i.e. this was also the peak period of Father Coughlin's controversial radio broadcasts).

 

My favorites of this period were the two reel (usually 20 minutes) Technicolor Specials that Warner Brothers put out between 1936 and 1940 covering famous and not so famous events in U.S. history. SONS OF LIBERTY, directed by both Crane Wilbur and Michael Curtiz with Claude Rains playing Haym Salomon, a Jew supporting Washington's troops, is THE archetypal film of the period. A particularly interesting scene set in prison attempts to unite religions together with Rains' character reciting a famous scriptural passage to a soon-to-be-executed Nathan Hale (played by Larry Williams).

 

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Other famous and either Oscar nominated or awarded titles include GIVE ME LIBERTY (1936)

 

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and DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (1938)

 

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