Sunday, July 02, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Seven Days in May (1964) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

A superb cast stars in SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964), an excellent political thriller newly released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

I first saw this film in 2009, and I think I enjoyed it even more this evening.

Col. "Jiggs" Casey (Kirk Douglas) observes a series of strange incidents at the Pentagon which lead him to reluctantly realize that General Scott (Burt Lancaster), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is plotting to overthrow the Presidency.

Scott believes that President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) is endangering the nation's safety due to his advocacy of a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. The President's poll numbers are falling through the cellar and Scott believes the time is ripe to elbow the President out of his job, well in advance of the next election. To that end he's organized a secret military force ready to take over major cities as well as TV broadcasting infrastructure.

As the clock ticks down toward the anticipated date of the suspected coup, the President's most trusted advisors work around the clock to determine if it's a genuine plot or simply a strange series of coincidences...

Some Very Important Movies of the late '50s and early '60s turn me off, with their self-conscious messaging -- see the discussion in my review of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) -- but this one works for me all the way. It has an exciting, well-plotted and edited story, plus excellent performances from a group of top-notch actors.

Additionally, it threads the political needle pretty well; although it's annoying that (as ever in Hollywood) the Cold War Hawks in the military are the bad guys, the film has an overall message all Americans can hopefully endorse -- in essence, if you don't like what's going on in government, don't plot an overthrow, run for office! Needless to say, that's a Constitutional message which still has some relevance today.

Other issues addressed in the film remain timely, including the role of the media in helping to shape or even control public opinion and the awkward contrast between a politician's public image and unsavory personal life; the latter occurs all too often.

I'm generally a fan of shorter films but this film is just right at 118 minutes. The story is crisply told and moves along quickly; the two hours fly by. On this second viewing I still want to know what really motivated General Scott, but that's my strongest quibble.

Earlier this year I discussed here that I don't particularly care for Kirk Douglas. It occurs to me that I probably like him more in this film than any other. He plays an intelligent and honorable man but the arrogance which imbues many of his characters is missing here. Morever, as one of the film's producers, Douglas was willing to step back for large sections of the movie and give other actors the chance to shine.

Last time I saw the film I was particularly impressed with March and Edmond O'Brien, who is outstanding in his Oscar-nominated role as an alcoholic senator who supports the President. This time around I also particularly enjoyed George Macready and Martin Balsam as two more of the President's close associates, and it was fun to notice Whit Bissell as a senator who is part of Scott's plot.

The cast also includes Ava Gardner, Andrew Duggan, Richard Anderson, Helen Kleeb, Bart Burns, and Hugh Marlowe.

The movie was directed by John Frankenheimer, from a screenplay by Rod Serling. It was beautifully shot in black and white by Ellsworth Fredericks. The musical score is by Jerry Goldsmith.

The widescreen print of the Warner Archive Blu-ray is outstanding. The commentary track by director Frankenheimer has been carried over from the original DVD release of some years ago. There is also a trailer.

Recommended viewing.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVD and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The message is neither lost nor overwhelms the intriguing drama. Just about everything that occurs could be easily translated to today. One exception I think is the gentlemanly attitude toward Ava's letters. In today's world, the woman would sell the letters to the highest media bidder and be making the rounds of the talk shows!

6:32 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I think you have nailed the picture in all of its strengths, and contextualized a political component run amok in several other films. In any case, just the way I feel about To Kill A Mockingbird.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you both, I'm glad to know you each have enjoyed this film as well.

Caftan Woman, so true about those letters!

Best wishes,

11:55 PM  

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