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More 4th of July Escapism: Musicalized Iowa Hicks & Declaration of Independence

(See previous post: Fourth of July Movies: Escapism During a Weird Year.) On the evening of the Fourth of July, besides fireworks, fire hazards, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, if you're watching TCM in the U.S. and Canada, there's the following:

  • Peter H. Hunt's 1776 (1972), a largely forgotten film musical based on the Broadway hit with music by Sherman Edwards. William Daniels, who was recently on TCM talking about 1776 and a couple of other movies (A Thousand Clowns, Dodsworth), has one of the key roles as John Adams. Howard Da Silva, blacklisted for over a decade after being named a communist during the House Un-American Committee hearings of the early 1950s (Robert Taylor was one who mentioned him in his testimony), plays Benjamin Franklin. Ken Howard is Thomas Jefferson, a role he would reprise in John Huston's 1976 short Independence. (In the short, Pat Hingle was cast as John Adams; Eli Wallach was Benjamin Franklin.)
  • Warner Bros.' lavish adaptation of Meredith Willson's 1957 Broadway hit, Morton DaCosta's The Music Man (1962), in spite of its lively finale and first-rate production values (and TCM's top-notch print), is a grandiose but tedious effort, recommended only to inveterate fans of big, stylized movie adaptations of stage musicals along the lines of, in varying degrees of quality, West Side Story, Gypsy, My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Hello, Dolly!, Scrooge, and Mame. Just don't even dream of finding anything or anyone remotely resembling real life or real people in The Music Man. Set in an idealized – “traditional values”-style – small town in pre-World War I Iowa, The Music Man is sort of an Upper American Midwest version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Oklahoma!, but without the drama. In other words, there's little to no complexity to be found in those “stubborn but simple” small-town Iowa folk – and, as to be expected in a romantic musical comedy, certainly no hint that any one of them (or their descendants) could, for instance, ever elect a white supremacist as their congressional representative. But even within these Fantasyland parameters, Walter Lang's Iowa-set State Fair – think too-handsome-for-words Dana Andrews romancing too-gorgeous-for-words Jeanne Crain, Dick Haymes crooning “It's a Grand Night for Singing” to Vivian Blaine, an inebriated Donald Meek having the hots for married woman Fay Bainter, a lovestruck pig – feels more realistic, more complex, and more genuine. As the Music Man (and con artist) himself, Robert Preston reprises his Broadway performance (Jack Warner had wanted the box-office-friendlier Cary Grant), delivering a characterization of such theatricality that he succeeds in making his inappropriate exuberance in Delbert Mann's otherwise low-key drama The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) feel like a model of understated acting. In what amounts to a non-role, the capable Shirley Jones (Barbara Cook on Broadway) looks mighty pretty and charming as a small-town librarian – but what a waste of the Oscar winner's (Elmer Gantry, 1960) talent. On the plus side, The Music Man's supporting cast includes pros Hermione Gingold and Mary Wickes – and, as a curiosity, future Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, 2001). As an aside, The Music Man is one of the relatively few post-1943 Best Picture Oscar nominees – from 1944 to 2008, there were only five shortlisted films per year – that failed to be nominated in the directing, acting, or writing categories. Curiously, two other movies suffered the same Unloved Best Picture Nominee fate in 1962: Lewis Milestone's Mutiny on the Bounty remake, starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard; and Darryl F. Zanuck's all-star, World War II mega-production The Longest Day, officially directed by Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, and Ken Annakin.
  • TCM's final 4th of July presentation is Thomas Schlamme's little-seen indie Miss Firecracker (1989), a comedy based on Beth Henley's 1984 play The Miss Firecracker Contest, starring Holly Hunter in the title role. Set in Yazoo City, Mississippi – that's a real place – the film revolves around an explosive small-town girl (Hunter) who wants to win the town's beauty pageant in order to a) get some needed cash b) get her wazoo out of Yazoo City. The problem is: she has no chance of winning. Or has she? Miss Firecracker's stellar cast also includes Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard, 1980), future Oscar winner Tim Robbins (Mystic River, 2003), Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard (Cross Creek, 1983), and Scott Glenn (Nashville, The Right Stuff), in addition to the director's wife, Oscar nominee Christine Lahti (Swing Shift, 1984) in a small role.

Reminder: This post is currently being revised and expanded. Please check back later.

8:00 PM AMERICA AMERICA (1963). Dir.: Elia Kazan. Cast: Stathis Giallelis. Frank Wolff. Harry Davis. B&W. 168 mins.

11:00 PM I REMEMBER MAMA (1948). Dir.: George Stevens. Cast: Irene Dunne. Barbara Bel Geddes. Oscar Homolka. Philip Dorn. Cedric Hardwicke. Ellen Corby. Edgar Bergen. Rudy Vallee. Barbara O'Neil. Florence Bates. Edith Evanson. Steve Brown. Uncredited: Cleo Ridgely.
B&W. 134 mins.

1:30 AM AN AMERICAN ROMANCE (1944). Dir.: King Vidor. Cast: Brian Donlevy. Ann Richards. Walter Abel. Color. 121 mins.

3:45 AM THE EMIGRANTS (1971). Dir.: Jan Troell. Color. 151 mins. Cast: Max von Sydow. Liv Ullmann. Eddie Axberg. Monica Zetterlund. Color. 151 mins.

6:30 AM JUDGE HARDY AND SON (1939). Dir.: George B. Seitz. Cast: Lewis Stone. Mickey Rooney. Cecilia Parker. B&W. 90 mins.

8:00 AM JOHN PAUL JONES (1959). Dir.: John Farrow. Cast: Robert Stack. Marisa Pavan. Charles Coburn. Bette Davis. Color. 126 mins. Letterbox Format.

10:15 AM THE SCARLET COAT (1955). Dir.: John Sturges. Cast: Cornel Wilde. Michael Wilding. George Sanders. Anne Francis. Robert Douglas. John McIntire. Rhys Williams. John Dehner. Bobby Driscoll. Color. 101 mins. Letterbox Format.

12:00 PM THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (1959). Dir.: Guy Hamilton. Cast: Burt Lancaster. Kirk Douglas. Laurence Olivier. Janette Scott. Eva Le Gallienne. Harry Andrews. Basil Sydney. George Rose. Neil McCallum. Mervyn Johns. Percy Herbert. B&W. 83 mins. Letterbox Format.

1:30 PM WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Dir.: Robert Wise. Cast: Natalie Wood. Richard Beymer. Russ Tamblyn. George Chakiris. Rita Moreno. Color. 154 mins. Letterbox Format.

4:15 PM TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949). Dir.: Busby Berkeley. Cast: Frank Sinatra. Esther Williams. Gene Kelly. Betty Garrett. Color. 93 mins.

6:00 PM SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). Dir.: Stanley Donen. Cast: Howard Keel. Jane Powell. Jeff Richards. Russ Tamblyn. Color. 102 mins. Letterbox Format.

8:00 PM YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942). Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: James Cagney. Joan Leslie. Walter Huston. Rosemary DeCamp. Richard Whorf. Irene Manning. George Tobias. Jeanne Cagney. Frances Langford. George Barbier. S.Z. Sakall. Walter Catlett. Douglas Croft. Eddie Foy Jr. Minor Watson. Uncredited: Leah Baird. Audrey Long. Lon McCallister. Frank Mayo. Dolores Moran. Joyce Reynolds. William Hopper. B&W. 126 mins.

10:15 PM 1776 (1972). Dir.: Peter H. Hunt. Cast: William Daniels. Howard Da Silva. Ken Howard. Donald Madden. John Cullum. Roy Poole. David Ford. Ray Middleton. Blythe Danner. Color. 165 mins. Letterbox Format.

1:15 AM THE MUSIC MAN (1962). Dir.: Morton DaCosta. Cast: Robert Preston. Shirley Jones. Buddy Hackett. Hermione Gingold. Paul Ford. Pert Kelton. Mary Wickes. Ron Howard. Charles Lane. The Buffalo Bills. Color. 151 mins. Letterbox Format.

4:00 AM MISS FIRECRACKER (1989). Color. 103 mins. Dir.: Thomas Schlamme. Cast: Holly Hunter. Mary Steenburgen. Tim Robbins. Alfre Woodard. Scott Glenn. Veanne Cox. Ann Wedgeworth. Trey Wilson. Amy Wright. Greg Germann. Bert Remsen. Christine Lahti. Color. 151 mins.


         
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