“All films are created equal. I don’t think there is such a thing as a small film. We’re not pulling any punches here. Scene for scene, everything is being done to the best of our abilities. Each scene as we make it is the best scene I’ve ever made—in my imagination.” –John Huston, on Independence
Forty years ago, director John Huston and a team of Hollywood professionals rolled into Philadelphia to make a film at Independence Hall. Forty years later, the film still screens at Independence National Historical Park, with twelve shows a day.
How, you might ask, did a little government film draw stars like John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), and cinematographer Owen Roizman, (The Exorcist)? The answer is that it was never a “little” film in the sense that so many government productions were quickly out of date and replaced. The National Park Service commissioned the film as a centerpiece to its Bicentennial celebrations and intended that it would be in use at Independence National Historical Park for twenty years. NPS budgeted nearly $400,000 for the production, a fortune for a non-theatrical film, even if it would have been low-budget by 1975 Hollywood standards.
In a letter to Orson Welles, Huston called the project his “200th birthday present to the United States,” and he threw around a lot of weight in order to create the best possible product, including asking Welles to star as Benjamin Franklin, and bringing on board an Academy Award nominated cinematographer. Welles turned the role down, but Eli Wallach did not, telling a Philadelphia newspaper that working with John Huston again was “part of the lure, but that he also wanted to make the film because the Park Service planned to show it “for years and years”. Wallach said that he and his wife (who plays Abigail Adams) “turned down a lot to do it.”
Keep reading about the story behind Independence at Happy July Fourth! John Huston’s “Birthday Present” to America | The Unwritten Record