Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Film Review: SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964, John Frankenheimer)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rod Serling, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Fredric March (THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE), Martin Balsam (PSYCHO, TWO EVIL EYES), Edmond O' Brien (Oscar-nominated here, THE WILD BUNCH, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE).
Tag-lines: "I'm suggesting Mr President, there's a military plot to take over the Government of these United States, next Sunday..."
Best line: "He's not the enemy. Scott, the Joint Chiefs, even the very emotional, very illogical lunatic fringe: they're not the enemy. The enemy's an age - a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, and out of sickness a frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness. And from this, this desperation, we look for a champion in red, white, and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration. For some men it was a Senator McCarthy, for others it was a General Walker, and now it's a General Scott. "

God damn, do I miss Rod Serling. His work at once effortlessly managed to tackle complex political subject matter whilst never appearing overly preachy or hitting you over the head with his generally grim assessments of the human condition. Serling's writing possessed a certain fluidity, mystery, and intellect that almost couldn't exist today; for it struck that near-impossible balance between universal accessibility and a refusal to pander to the masses.

Serling's obviously not the only creative force behind this film (along with director John Frankenheimer and original novelists, Charles Bailey and Fletcher Knebel), but his screenplay definitely sets the tone for the subject matter, which, given the events of November 22, 1963, could be just at home in reality as in the Twilight Zone. And given those then-current events, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY is jaw-droppingly, courageously bold; audacious for any time period, much less in the year after Kennedy's assassination.

Now, John Frankenheimer at his best (SECONDS, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) can easily match Hitchcock for pure foreboding and dread-inducing quoditian suspense, and with the narrative involving the slow unraveling of a hostile takeover of the U.S. government by the military elite, Frankenheimer has plenty of chances to shine. The acting is not only top-notch, it has a tremendous amount of class.

Burt Lancaster was a true razor-edged powerhouse, and to see a sharp battle of wits, politics, and logic between him, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Edmond O'Brien, and Ava Gardner shows off the classic Hollywood machine at the height of its powers. This film is beyond excellent; subversive, compelling, entertaining, artful, and a complete masterpiece, and without a doubt, the major template for every political thriller that followed in its wake.

-Sean Gill

1 comment:

skeelo said...

I remember watching this about a year ago and it putting some ole fear into me. Nice film poster.