Film & Water #68 – Seven Days in May



Rob welcomes back fellow Network All-Star Ryan Daly to discuss the 1964 political thriller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Fredric March, written by Rod Serling!

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10 responses to “Film & Water #68 – Seven Days in May

  1. Fantastic movie, with a brilliant end speech, from Frederick march, that hammers home the truth about a democratic system, which is currently in tatters. We could use a few more Lymons and a hell of a lot less of what we do have, on both sides.

    My only real quibble with the film is that it seriously sells short the honor of the military, in this country. We do see elements reject Scott; but, the amount that backs is beyond the pale. Far too many subordinates would question the orders to ever carry out a military coup. It’s a “what if”; but, I don’t necessarily think a plausible one. It is great drama, though.

    1. I always felt, if they had done a Captain America motion picture, in the late 40s (not the serial) or early 50s, Lancaster was perfect for it. His circus background made him perfect and the man could deliver a rousing speech. Just watch him in the Crimson Pirate sometime. Best pirate movie ever!

  2. John Frankenheimer directed 2 other great 1960s films with Lancaster: Birdman of Alcatraz & The Train (19640. The latter stars Lancaster as a member of the French Resistance confronting Nazis attempting to move stolen art masterpieces to Germany. I stumbled across it on cable a few years back and it’s gripping. Another great one is Seconds (1966) which is about an unhappy middle-aged man who is given a second chance at life who is given the body of a young, virile man (Rock Hudson). It may be Hudson’s best work. It’s almost like an extended Twilight Zone episode.

    My personal favorite of Frankenheimer is Manchurian Candidate. If you ever discuss this one in an episode I am your man. Angela Lansbury gives a towering performance as one of the great screen heavies.

  3. This film was produced by Kirk Douglas’ company, Joel Productions. He wanted Lancaster in the film, which caused Frankenheimer problems. He had a tempestuous relationship with Lancaster on Birdman. Douglas, in his autobiography, Rag Picker’s Son, said he reassured Frankenheimer that he would keep Lancaster in check. Ironically, Frankenheimer and Lancaster became friends over the films and Douglas and Frankenheimer had a fallout.

    The film and the original novel were extremely topical. President Kennedy had accepted the resignation of Gen. Edward Walker, who was brainwashing his troops to believe that Harry s Truman, Eleanor roosevelt and Dean Acheson were communist sympathizers. Then, there was Curtis LeMay and his calls for a nuclear First Strike. Of course, the most famous incident was the showdown between Truman and MacArthur, during the Korean War. MacArthur was challenging the authority of Truman and Truman was forced to use his power as Commander-in-Chief to remove MacArthur from command of US forces in South Korea.

    As I said above, I find the idea of so many military members joining Scott to be a Hollywood fantasy; but, they are offset by enough who don’t that i give it a pass. Douglas articulates the general outlook of everyone I knew, which is we are duty bound to follow the orders and policy of the American government. However, we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, against all enemies, foreign or domestic. That means we are also bound to defend democracy from those who would attempt to undermine the constitution, such as Scott, with his coup. We are duty bound to refuse his orders, as they are unlawful and unconstitutional. The same is true of the ear-mongering scenario of Trump using nukes because he is pissed off by some other power. The Cabinet is unlikely to sanction it, the Pentagon unlikely to just do it, without protest, and those in the field would question the lawfulness of the order.

    Frankenheimer is a criminally under-rated director. He was on fire in the 60s and excelled at these kinds of human drama and intrigue. His career kind of fell off the path in the 70s and 80s, with some hits, like French Connection II and Black Sunday, at some good, but less successful films. The 80s saw less high profile films, with more cult favorites, like 52 Pickup. For me, Ronin, in the 90s, showed what a great director of action and intrigue he was.

    Lancaster was a real Lefty, and one who stood up for his principles. He was born into working class roots and never forgot them. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, whose alumni include Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Don Adams, Robert Altman, Richard Avedon, Martin Balsam, Paddy Chayefsky, Stanley Kramer, Ralph Lauren, Richard Rogers, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sherwood Schwartz, and Neil Simon. he was part of the Federal theater Project, with the Circus and was a campaigner for civil rights and fought against HUAC and spoke out against the Vietnam War. This was a man who didn’t pay lip service to causes, for good PR; he was an active and vocal participant, including the March on Washington.

    Douglas was born to Russian Jewish immigrants and lived in poverty. Academic and athletic achievement helped get him a higher education, which got him into acting. one of his classmates was Lauren Bacall, a lifelong friend. Aside from his acting talents, his bryna Productions became a major player in Hollywood and was responsible for putting blacklisted writer Dalton trumbo’s name on the credits of Spartacus and in interviews, effectively ending the blacklist. He’s been a philanthropist and worldwide advocate of American democracy, earning him the Presdential medal of Freedom, awarded by Jimmy Carter. He has testified before Congress on the subject of elder abuse and has donated millions to care for alzheimer’s patients, especially in Hollywood.

    March had served as an artillery lieutenant in WW1 and was a banker, when an emergency appendectomy made him reconsider his life. He became one of the most acclaimed actors of the 1930s and shows he was still a powerhouse in the 60s, long with these two other giants, plus a supporting cast of character actor powerhouses.

    First saw this on TBS and have rewatched it many times since. I actually feel it is superior to the Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer’s other paranoid classic.

  4. Great episode! I have always loved this film but not many know about it these days — March is probably my favorite fictional film President — in the same group as Jeff Bridges in The Contender and Charles Durning in Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Actually, that film is also somewhat forgotten but has always been a favorite of mine also. Burt Lancaster stars in that one too — but in a very different role. The less said the better if you haven’t seen it but it’s a great addition to the paranoid political thrillers of the 70’s — excellent cast and direction and great use of split-screen cinematography. I highly recommend!
    Thanks again for another entertaining show — keep up the great work!

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