Two lines of dialogue from SEVEN DAYS IN MAY always stick in my mind when I think of this marvellous political thriller which is masterfully directed by John Frankenheimer .
The first is when Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas) goes to the White House to see President Jordan Lyman ( Fredric March) and has to tell the President:
” I’m suggesting, Mr. President, there’s a military plot to take over the Government next Sunday.”
That bombshell keeps you glued to your screen for the next two hours.
The second line I always remember is when Vice-Admiral Barnswell (John Houseman) states:
“I signed no paper. He took nothing with him.”
John Houseman is such a consummate actor and his flat- out lie is well delivered. Barnswell ( who is on board his ship in the Mediterranean) had signed a letter saying he was part of the coup to overturn the Government, but he figured it was lost when Paul Girard (Martin Balsam) , who was taking the letter back to America , is killed when his plane crashes.
Jiggs (Kirk Douglas)actually agrees with his superior General Scott (Burt Lancaster) that a disarmament treaty with Russia is wrong, but Jiggs knows that the military cannot overrule the government .
Scott and the other joint chiefs of staff are planning to remove President Lyman from office before he can sign the treaty.
Senator Prentice (Whit BISSELL) is an ally of General Scott and he assumes Jiggs is part of the plot.
Colonel Casey tells an astounded President (Fredric March) and the President’s advisor Paul Girard (Martin Balsam) about the possibility of an attempt to overthrow the government.
Hugh Marlowe is Harold McPherson, a TV commentator who knows about the conspiracy. And will give General Scott air time to explain to the public what he has done.
Ava Gardner ‘s role as Eleanor Holbrook ,who had been involved with General Scott, is small and could be deemed unnecessary . I guess the studio felt they couldn’t go with an all male cast.
Andrew Duggan is Colonel Henderson, a friend of Jiggs.
Henderson is part of the jigsaw which leads Jiggs to his conclusion about a military take-over. Henderson is second in command of the mysterious EComcon unit.
Another part of the jigsaw. Jiggs finds this scrap of paper after a meeting of the joint chiefs of staff. It refers to a military group ,Ecomcon which he has never heard of ,until he talks to his friend Col. Henderson.
Edmond O’Brien as the senator from Georgia, Ray Clark who helped Jordan Lyman become President. Ray is given an important task by the President – to find out where , in the area of El Paso, the Ecomcon unit is based.
The President tells General Scott he won’t be attending the military training alert the following Sunday ( which is when the coup would take place).
The meeting on board Admiral Barnswell’s ship.
Barnswell admits his involvement and signs a letter to that effect.
Almost the best scene in the film when the two men speak plainly to each other. General Scott accuses President Lyman of endangering the people of the United States and that he is fatally wrong to make a disarmament treaty with the Russians.
The President suggests that Scott should run for office – that’s the democratic way. He also points out that a military coup in America could result in action from Moscow.
The President demands the general’s resignation. He refuses.
Lancaster and March are well matched. A gripping scene.
Is this Burt Lancaster’s greatest role? He is that General with the three barrelled name, James Mattoon Scott. He is icily cold in his demeanour and fanatical in his belief that what he is planning is the only way .
Jiggs shows President Lyman Barnswell’s confession. Paul Girard had hidden it in his cigarette case.
(Edmond O’Brien and George Macready in the background.)
General Scott: “Do you know who Judas was.?”
Colonel Casey:” Yes, he’s the man I used to work for and respect, until he disgraced the three stars on his uniform.”
John Frankenheimer said that Kirk Douglas had originally intended to play General Scott.Douglas admitted later that Lancaster had the better role.
Rod Serling wrote the screenplay, from the 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey.
A brilliant soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.
Tbis film had to be in black and white. I can’t imagine it in color.
Extra: Today, 9/12/16 is KIRK DOUGLAS’ s 100th birthday and Kirk’s film career is celebrated at http://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com
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As co-executive producer I believe I read that Kirk gave Lancaster the Scott role for the sake of the film. I think he made the right decision.
Most of this movie plays perfectly for today. The only thing off is the gentlemanly way they treat Ava’s privacy and letters. Today, the gal would be selling an exclusive to one of the cable news outlets or talk shows.
Lancaster did indeed become General Scott.
Such an intense film. I agree that when we learn there may be a plot to take over the government, we’re immediately glued to the screen.
Even though this film has a top-notch cast, it wouldn’t be the same without Kirk Douglas. When I’m watching this, I find I can’t wait until his next scene.
The Kirk Douglas character contrasts perfectly with the intensity of the Lancaster character.
It’s a terrific film from start to finish. If I’m channel-surfing and it’s on, I always end up watching the rest of it (even though I have a DVD copy).
You can’t stop watching, I know what you mean!
Many fine actors have played the U.S. President in movies, but because of this film Fredric March tops them all.
Such a fine actor.