Seven Days in May (1964)

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964)
Article 3290 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-27-2010
Posting Date: 8-17-2010
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March
Country: USA
What it is: Political thriller

The United States is in turmoil after the president signs an unpopular peace treaty with the Soviet Union. An aide to an extremely popular general (who opposes the treaty and has political ambitions) begins stumbling across clues that make him suspect that there may be an attempted military coup to take over the country. What will he do… and will he be believed?

Compared to the other genre movies by John Frankenheimer during this period (to wit, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SECONDS), this one is less audacious and certainly less flamboyant. On the other hand, it doesn’t need to be; the subject matter is gripping enough that it doesn’t need extra cinematic prodding, and the straightforward technique combined with the excellent performances from a stellar cast are what make this one fly. I couldn’t help but notice how well the story works as an ensemble; along with those mentioned above, the cast also featues Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Martin Balsam, Whit Bissell and George Macready, and all of these actors are used just to the extent the story needs them. Just for example, Kirk Douglas dominates the first half of the movie as the driving force behind the plot, but once events move out of his hands, he is used sparingly, meaning that the story is the focus here, not the star power. I couldn’t also help but notice the scarcity of overt violence on the screen, which is very striking for a movie that can be described as a thriller; once again, it is the story that thrills rather than the action sequences. Several of the actors won awards for their performances here, as did Rod Serling for his script based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. The concept of a military polical coup in the U.S. is what makes it political science fiction, though I could understand why some might contest that classification; nevertheless, it’s an excellent and highly recommended movie.

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