Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seven Days in May

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in Seven Days in May (1964)

Another movie that I have surprisingly never blogged about before is Seven Days in May. It's showing up overnight tonight at 2:15 AM on TCM, so now would be a good time to blog about it.

The movie starts off with scenes of people picketing outside the White House for and against President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March). It seems as though he's negotiated a controversial nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union, and gotten it through the Senate, with the result that it's had a disastrous effect on his popularity. Apparently, the people who opposed the treaty believe that the Soviets won't honor it. To be honest, the premise may be a plot hole, in that there would have been a very low chance of ever getting a treaty like this through the Senate, since a lot of the Senators would rightly understand that it would get them voted out of office. They, after all, can see how unpopular this is making the President. But ignore that gaping plot hole, and you're in for a pretty entertaining movie.

Anyhow, after the establishing scene, we meet our two other main characters. Col. Casey (Kirk Douglas) is the adjutant to General Scott (Burt Lancaster), who is presumably on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Casey, in his job, sees some odd things cross his desk. First is a betting ring on the Preakness Stakes; there's talk of odd troop transfers and a base in Texas; and something called "Ecomcon", which is obviously an acronym for something, and whatever that something is, it's got to be nefarious. Col. Casey decides to do some discreet investigating, and he discovers enough to realize that there is indeed something serious, and that General Scott is trying to keep him in the dark. Eventually, Col. Casey suspects that the generals are planning a coup for the coming Sunday, and that the President is obviously in grave danger!

What's a colonel to do? Good loyal American that he is, he goes to a commanding officer. No, not his own commanding officer in the form of the General, since that would give the game away, but the Ultimate Commanding Officer, the Commander-in-Chief himself. The President and his advisers himself are obviously reluctant to believe that there could be a coup being plotted, since this means there are some serious consequences. But, they're not imprudent, and they decide to do some subtle investigation of their own, as well as taking steps to ensure that President Lyman won't be where the generals can keep him hostage. One presidential aide gets a confession from an admiral who is now stationed off Gibraltar, but unfortunately he's killed in a plane crash trying to return from Spain. Another Lyman supporter, Senator Clark (Edmond O'Brien) goes to Texas to investigate the new base, and gets held on a trespassing charge. It's becoming more and more clear that there is a coup being planned, but can the President and his advisors prevent it?

There's one other thing that could stop it, which is indiscretions on the part of General Scott. It turns out that he had had an affair with socialite Eleanor (Ava Gardner), and that she's got a bunch of love letters that, if they were ever made public, would doom the General. Col. Casey knows Eleanor, and tries to get the letters for her, even though it's going to mean possibly ruining the friendly relationship he has with her.

Seven Days in May is a movie that is immensely engrossing and entertaining, set against the unsettling unasked background question of whether any plot like this is possible in the real America. Just consider how many people believe in nonsense conspiracy theories about the assassination of President Kennedy, or the birth certificate stuff about Barack Obama, or the phony documents about George W. Bush's National Guard service. With the exception of hanging all the events on the hook of a treaty that I think would never have gotten passed by the Senate, the story is well-done, and the cast is uniformly excellent. Career supporting actor names I haven't mentioned are Martin Balsam as the aide who dies in Spain; John Houseman as the admiral from whom Balsoam extracts a confession; and Whit Bissell as a senator who seems in on the machinations of the generals.

Seven Days in May is part of a Burt Lancaster box set that the Warner Archive put out.

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