Spirit of '76 (1917)

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Although no existing prints of this film seems to have survived, the history of The Spirit of '76 resurfaced in 2000 due to the controversial Mel Gibson vehicle The Patriot. A wildly fantastic Revolutionary War melodrama undoubtedly inspired by Archibald McNeil Willard's famous 1876 painting of the same name, The Spirit of '76 depicts the attempts of George III's mistress Catherine Montour (Adda Gleason) to become "Queen of America." Despite warnings, producer Robert Goldstein, the owner of a costume company, reportedly went ahead and filmed all kinds of British atrocities, including redcoats bayoneting babies and raping village maidens -- inflammatory acts indeed in a year when Great Britain was enmeshed in a devastating war against Imperial Germany. As a result, Goldstein found himself prosecuted under President Woodrow Wilson's Wartime Espionage Act and sentenced to ten years in prison. The sentence was later commuted to three years but Goldstein was financially wiped out and spent the remainder of his life unsuccessfully demanding restitution. The debacle over The Spirit of '76 can be studied in Anthony Slide's fine 1993 book Robert Goldstein and the Spirit of '76.