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FEATURE FILMS AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: A BICENTENNIAL REAPPRAISAL LAWRENCE L. MURRAY The wave of nostalgia which has capitvated hte nation in recent years is slowly giving way to a heightened sense of history. As the country gathers to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of its birth, the general public is evincing a growing desire to reacquaint itself with our colonial/revolutionary heritage. Capitalizing on that interest, "the buy-centennial," the television industry has already launched a number of special programs—the daily bicentennial almanac on CBS, a mini-series biography of Benjamin Franklin, a simulated interview with Lord North, and a rendition of George III in The Last King of America to cite but a few. James A. Michener offers an overview of the television industry's plans in "TV Hails Our 200th Birthday" ("Special Bicentennial Issue," TV Guide, June 28, 1975, pp. 4-11). Surprisingly, the film industry has not followed the lead of television as no specific plans have been revealed for any innovative undertakings . The industry's predilection appears to be ^/ery low profile, eschewing new projects in favor of availing itself of what is already on hand. The archives are being combed for movies suitable for the bicentennial which can be reissued to theaters, sold to television, or rented to selected markets such as colleges and libraries. At least one commercial distributor, Universal 16, is compiling a special brochure to exploit the campus rental market and others are sure to follow. Those interested in obtaining movies whose subject matter draws upon the colonial/revolutionary heritage will find the supply limited. Almost forty years ago, Frank Nugent observed in his review of Drums Along the Mohawk that "the Revolutionary period, oddly enough, has been one of the least exploited epochs in our nation's history--by the screen that is." (New York Times, November 4, 1939) That generalization could Lawrence L. Murray is Assistant Professor of History at St. John's University, Jamaica, N.Y. 1 be offered with equal validity today. No more than three dozen films from both the silent and sound era are available whose themes relate to the cqI oni al /revolutionary heritage. What is accessible emanates from the entire gamut of film history as there was no particular period in which films with such thematic material were abundant. A genre does not exist. A few films might be singled out to illustrate the point: America (1924), The Howards of Virginia (1940), and 1776 (1972). Viewing these three together may offer a composite picture of how Hollywood has treated the American Revolution during the last half century. America is a D. W. Griffith spectacle in the tradition of Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), though lacking in the artistic achievements reached in those productions. Excessive running time and a clumsy attempt to handle several story lines simultaneously combine to confuse and to bore today's viewers unlike those in the Twenties who found it exhilarating. Sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution , America was a patriotic effort to cover the entire sweep of the revolution in a non-controversial manner. That Griffith successfully merchandized the picture in England (the only print extant is one from the British market where it was titled Love and Sacrifice) reflects his adroit handling of history which was basically in keeping with the then popular interpretation of Charles McCl ean Andrews and the Imperialist School. Of particular note is Griffith's description of the schism between Patriots and Tories which he presents essentially along class lines. He also offers an extended description of the fighting in the Mohawk Valley of New York, and his characterization of Britain's Indian allies is an excellent illustration of Hollywood's portrayal of native Americans in the 1920's. The battle scenes, notably Bunker Hill, are spectacular and should be familiar to most film historians for they have been used many times since, e.g., in Frank Capra's wartime Why We Fight series. A complement to America is an early Griffith analysis of a single facet of the revolution, 1776 or the Hessian Renegade (1909), a seventeen-minute Biograph short with Mary Pickford in one of her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 1-6
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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