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Saturday Night Cinema: Seven days in May

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is “Seven Days in May.” John Frankenheimer’s gripping political tale of conspiracy benefits from taut direction, good acting by an all-star cast, and excellent technical values, especially cinematography. In light of the Democrats attempted coup pre and post the 2016 Presidential election, this doesn’t seem too fantastic or far-out. Frankly reality is far more frightening. The Democrat plot involved multiple U.S. agencies , the movie, just one.

Seven Days in May’ Opens at 2 Theaters

By Bosley Crowther, New York Times,FEB. 20, 1964

IT’S beginning to look us though the movies are out to scare us all to death with dire and daring speculations on what might happen, any day in Washington.First we had “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” which tells us, between bursts of laughter, how helpless our Government would be if a maniacal Air Force general tried to start a nuclear war. Now, in a film from Fletcher Knebel’s and Charles W. Bailey 2d’s novel, “Seven Days in May,” we are offered a similarly fearsome prospect of the crisis that might occur if another Air Force general planned to seize control of the Government.Suffering cats and little kittens!

One might ask what we’re coming to if such shocking thoughts are penetrating the deep domes of Hollywood! But at least we have this consolation: a substantial measure of hope is held out by the second picture, which opened at the Criterion and the Sutton yesterday.The traitors are boldly confronted by the President of the United States, the plot is adroitly uncovered and the Republic still stands at the end.As a matter of fact, there is a great deal about this “Seven Days in May” that is rousing and encouraging to a feeling of confidence and pride—and this is in addition to the feelings of tension and excitement it stirs. Considerably more than melodrama and sensationalism are contained in its not too farfetched speculations. There is, in its slick dramatic frame, a solid base of respect for democracy and the capacities of freedom-loving men.

Essentially, the film offers a gripping melodramatic account of the steps taken by the President when he is advised of a secret suspicion that the top Air Force general, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is heading a plot to take over the Government on a certain Sunday in May. This general, a highly popular hero, is moved to this traitorous enterprise because he fears the consequences of a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Russians that the President has negotiated.Leads on this mammoth maneuver are swiftly and smartly pursued in the best spy-fiction tradition, amazing discoveries are made and a climactic confrontation between the Presidnt and his adversary is reached. But the interesting thing is that the import of the drama here takes a marked turn into a delicate, critical area of political philosophy.

In some vivid and trenchant dialogue, which Rod Serling has composed in doing the screenplay from the novel, the President sadly notes the cause of such a move toward upheaval is not one man’s lust for power but the consequence of a concentration of fear and anxiety. The enemy is not the general, he says, it is the nuclear age. “It happens to have killed man’s faith in his ability to influence what happens to him,” he says.If for no more than this statement, the film is worth its salt.But there is a whole lot more in it. The whole thing achieves a tingling speed and irresistible tension under John Frankenheimer’s direction, which deftly lifts some of the tricks of pictorial and musical emphasis from the old Nazi “Blitzkrieg” films. It gathers a sense of actuality and plausibility (except for one twist; that is the supposition of a giant secret military base).And it is expertly played.Fredric March’s performance as the President is the firmest and the best.

In it is reflected an awareness of the immensity of the anguish of this man. Kirk Douglas is sturdy and valiant as the Air Force colonel who smells out the plot, and Burt Lancaster is impressively forceful as the engineer of the coup d’état.Martin Balsam as the President’s press secretary, Edmond O’Brien as a doughty Senator, Ava Gardner as a Washington hostess and Whit Bissell as a Senatorial sneak are among the several excellent performers of secondary roles.As dismal as is the complication that they and this picture present, the acknowledgment of its possibility and the discovery of how it might be resolved, with wisdom and fundamental courage, make this a brave and forceful film.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, screenplay by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Balley 2d;
directed by John Frankenheimer
produced by Edward Lewis

A Paramount Pictures presentation. At the Criterion Theater, Broadway and 45th Street, and the Sutton Theater, 57th Street near Third Avenue. Running time: 120 minutes.
Gen. James M. Scott . . . . . Burt Lancaster
Col. Martin Casey . . . . . Kirk Douglas
President Jordan Lyman . . . . . Fredric March
Eleanor Holbrook . . . . . Ava Gardner
Senator Raymond Clark . . . . . Edmond O’Brien
Paul Girard . . . . . Martin Balsam
Christopher Todd . . . . . George Macready
Senator Prentice . . . . . Whit Bissell
Admiral Barnswell . . . . . John Houseman
Harold McPherson . . . . . Hugh Marlowe
Arthur Corwin . . . . . Bart Burns
Colonel Murdock . . . . . Richard Anderson
Lieutenant Hough . . . . . Jack Mullaney
Col. Mutt Henderson . . . . . Andrew Duggan
Colonel Broderick . . . . . John Larkin
White House physican . . . . . Malcolm Atterbury
Esther Townsend . . . . . Helen Kleeb
Bar Girl . . . . . Colette Jackson

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