Monday, May 17, 2021

#2,569. Seven Days in May (1964) - The Films of Kirk Douglas

 





Two years after directing The Manchurian Candidate - one of my all-time favorite films - John Frankenheimer again cranked the tension up to 10 with Seven Days in May, a politically-charged thriller with one hell of a cast.

The Cold War is in full swing, but that hasn’t stopped U.S. President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) from entering into a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Lyman is convinced it’s the right thing to do, though not everyone agrees. A recent poll revealed that President Lyman’s approval rating is the lowest it has ever been, and the military establishment believes he’s leading the country into a trap, and that the Russians will attack the moment the United States disarms.

Lyman’s most vocal critic is Air Force General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the President’s popularity plummets, Scott’s skyrockets, and there are those in the Senate and the press who believe the General should be the one calling the shots.

While going about his duties as the director of the Joints Staff, Colonel “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas) stumbles upon classified information that seems to suggest General Scott and a few others are planning to oust President Lyman and take control of the government. A staunch supporter of General Scott’s, Casey nonetheless feels it is his duty to prevent this coup, and though he has no direct evidence, alerts President Lyman of his suspicions.

With only seven days before Scott’s alleged plan is put into motion, the President and his allies, including White House Chief of Staff Paul Girard (Martin Balsam), Treasury Secretary Chris Todd (George MacReady), and Senator Ray Clark (Edmond O’Brien), move quickly, gathering evidence to expose Scott and prevent his intended coup.

The opening sequence of Seven Days in May, a clash in front of the White House between picketers who oppose the treaty and others who support it, gets things off to a nerve-racking start, and from there on out the movie never loses its momentum. As he did with The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer brings us to the edge of our seats more than once, especially in the final act, when President Lyman and his team are fighting both the clock and those who are out destroy them.

Lancaster delivers a bravura performance as the egotistical Scott, while Douglas, Balsam, O’Brien (who won a Golden Globe for his performance), MacReady and Ava Gardner (as a former lover of Scott’s who may just hold the key to exposing the coup) are also strong in their respective roles.

It is Fredric March, however, who damn near steals the show as President Lyman, a man whose political beliefs have made him a target. March is excellent throughout, though his finest moment occurs in the final act, when his President Lyman, still lacking sufficient proof, confronts General Scott. It is an intense exchange, with both actors at the top of their game.

A harrowing, occasionally frightening tale of political conspiracy written by the great Rod Serling, Seven Days in May is as thrilling as they come.
Rating: 9 out of 10









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