The whole reason I checked out this movie was because I noticed who wrote it – Rod Serling, the creator of “The Twilight Zone” and writer of the original “Planet of the Apes.” If you’ve watched enough of “The Twilight Zone,” you’d notice that Serling was a poltically-charged man, but also played both sides. He often founds ways to poke holes in both the Republican and Democratic sides, showing the flaws and leading to the side that Serling was always on – humanity.
So when I learned that this man also wrote a movie about a corrupt megalomania general (Burt Lancaster) and his plans to overthrow the President (Fredric March) and take over the United States government, my curiosity was immediately peaked.
“Seven Days in May” was originally a novel, conceived in the middle of the Cold War and the rise of mutually assured destruction via nuclear weapons was at its highest. The idea of both the novel and the film, is that it takes place roughly ten years in the future and the President, being sick and tired of threatened by atomic bombs every day and the end of the human race, signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union, despite more than 70% of Americans disagreeing with him on that decision, most saying that the Soviets cannot be trusted and would destroy the U.S. at the first opportunity.
The film was also released in 1964, the same year as two other massive Cold War thrillers, one a serious look at the possibility of mutually assured destruction, “Fail Safe,” and the other taking that same story and making a comedy of it, “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” “Seven Days in May” was released only a few weeks after “Dr. Strangelove,” so it’s no wonder this film often goes unnoticed.
Where “Dr. Strangelove” took the hard-edged politcal jargon that would come from an accidental assault on an opposing nation and turned it into petty squabbling about America’s impotency, “Seven Days in May” tells it to us straight and in long-form, with all the flowery politics you could imagine. Needless to say, the majority of this film went over my head.
The best scenes were the ones involving Burt Lancaster, who always has a certain intensity that is unmatched. He comes across like he’s not even trying to be intense, but every word he says is so drenched in importance and ferocity that you believe in what he’s saying. When he delivers a speech about how the President is dragging this country down and how it needs a man like himself to bring it back from the brink, you believe him. Unfortunately, Lancaster is only in a few scenes of the film, mostly near the beginning and the end.
Additionally, Fredric March plays a great contemplative President living in a difficult time to be President. Kirk Douglas also has a leading role, playing a subordinate to Lancaster who finds out about his plans to take over and alerts the President. Douglas plays a subdued role in this film, which is different from his usually vocal and intense roles in films like “Ace in the Hole” and “The Bad and the Beautiful.”
Overall, “Seven Days in May” is worth a look if you want to see Rod Serling at his most political. It is an interesting tale of a man with power who feels that his leaders aren’t doing their job and wants nothing more than take that power away from them. It does get bogged down in politics that most people won’t understand, myself included, but it balances that out with some great performances.
Final Grade: C