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movie review of seven days in may

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Seven Days in May

1964, Mystery & thriller, 1h 58m

What to know

Critics Consensus

John Frankenheimer's striking direction and a first-rate cast conspire to make Seven Days in May a stark, riveting tale of political intrigue. Read critic reviews

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Seven days in may   photos.

U.S. President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) hopes to bring an end to the Cold War by signing a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets, much to the displeasure of the hawkish General James Scott (Burt Lancaster), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When Scott's aide, Martin "Jiggs" Casey (Kirk Douglas) stumbles on shattering evidence that the General is plotting a coup to overthrow Lyman in seven days, "Jiggs" alerts the President, setting off a dangerous race to thwart the takeover.

Genre: Mystery & thriller

Original Language: English

Director: John Frankenheimer

Producer: Edward Lewis

Writer: Fletcher Knebel , Charles W. Bailey II , Rod Serling

Release Date (Theaters): Feb 12, 1964  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Jul 24, 2014

Runtime: 1h 58m

Distributor: Paramount Pictures, Warner Home Vídeo, Warner Bros.

Production Co: Seven Arts Pictures, Joel Productions

Sound Mix: Mono

Cast & Crew

Burt Lancaster

Gen. James Mattoon Scott

Kirk Douglas

Col. Martin 'Jiggs' Casey

Fredric March

President Jordan Lyman

Ava Gardner

Eleanor 'Ellie' Holbrook

Edmond O'Brien

Sen. Raymond Clark

Martin Balsam

Paul Girard

George Macready

Christopher Todd

Whit Bissell

Sen. Frederick Prentice

Hugh Marlowe

Harold McPherson

John Frankenheimer

Fletcher Knebel

Charles W. Bailey II

Rod Serling


Edward Lewis

Jerry Goldsmith

Original Music

Ellsworth Fredericks


Ferris Webster

Film Editing

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Seven Days in May (1964) Classic Movie Review 111

Seven Days in May (1964) Poster

Yes, I know who Judas was. He was a man I worked for and admired until he disgraced the four stars on his uniform. – Seven Days in May (1964)

Today’s movie is Seven Days in May (1964). This star-studded military movie doesn’t feature any combat. But there is enough action for anyone, as a rogue general tries to replace the US president in a military coup. Every actor in this movie is amazing but I want to call out Edmond O’Brien who plays a drunken Senator. Rod Serling wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by John Frankenheimer.

So, let’ jump right into the actors, many of whom are show veterans.

Actors – Seven Days in May (1964)

Burt Lancaster played Gen. James Mattoon Scott. The great Burt Lancaster was covered in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

Kirk Douglas played Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey. Douglas was first covered in In Harm’s Way (1965).

Fredric March plays seemingly weak President Jordan Lyman. March was first covered in The Buccaneer (1938).

Edmond O’Brien was great as permanently inebriated Sen. Raymond Clark. O’Brien was covered in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

Martin Balsam plays the president’s aide Paul Girard. Balsam was covered in Time Limit (1957).

Hugh Marlowe played the role of Harold McPherson. Marlowe was covered in World Without End (1956).

Whit Bissell plays Sen. Frederick Prentice Bissell was covered in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

John Houseman played Vice-Adm. Farley C. Barnswell and was uncredited. Houseman always plays a stodgy old Englishman so I was very surprised to find out he was born in Romania in 1902. He was raised and educated in England.

In 1925, he moved to New York City and began working in theater. He was also a founding member of the Mercury Theatre. During the Great Depression, he worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) financed the Federal Theater Project. He was the producer of the “Cradle Will Rock” with Orson Welles and known leftists Howard Da Silva and Will Geer. Grandpa, say it ain’t so. Tim Robbins directed a movie version Cradle Will Rock (1999) which had more stars than I can name here. It is really worth a watch.

Houseman directed more plays and went to work for the US government during World War II on the Voice of America. Following the war, he directed and produced Julius Caesar (1953), the one with Marlon Brando. He was a producer on a lot of films, and television shows, such as Lust for Life (1956), Executive Suite (1954), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Holiday for Sinners (1952), On Dangerous Ground (1951), They Live by Night (1948), and The Blue Dahlia (1946).

Houseman devoted much of his life to teaching and even help formed the acting school at the Julliard School for the Arts. He played the stern law professor in The Paper Chase (1973) and won an Oscar. His talents were in high demand as a supporting actor. Houseman died in 1988 at the age of 86.

Ava Gardner played the role of Eleanor Holbrook. Gardner was born in 1922 in the mighty metropolis of Grabtown, North Carolina. This hometown beauty gained a love of going barefoot being raised on a tobacco farm. When Ava was 18, someone noticed a picture of her in her brother-in-law’s photography studio. On the strength of just her looks, she was given a contract with MGM.

Since Gardner had no previous acting experience, the 17 films she made between 1942 and 1945 were one-liners and small parts. Ava was then cast in Whistle Stop (1946), a B-movie drama with George Raft. Next, she was loaned to Universal and starred in one of the best Film-Noirs ever, The Killers (1946), with Burt Lancaster .

Although she remained under contract to MGM for 17 years, a lot of her best work was when she was loaned to other studios for movies like Mogambo (1953) and Bhowani Junction (1956). She made many quality movies such as The Sun Also Rises (1957) with an aging Errol Flynn, the sci-fi On the Beach (1959), 55 Days at Peking (1963), Seven Days in May (1964), and The Night of the Iguana (1964).

Living in Europe, she made a few films just for the money such as The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), and disaster flicks Earthquake (1974) and The Cassandra Crossing (1976). This beautiful and talented actress died early at the age of 67 in 1990.

Richard Anderson played the role of Col. Murdock. Anderson did some acting before his time in the Army. After he was discharged, he worked in summer stock and radio. He was eventually signed with MGM and was in some important movies such as Forbidden Planet (1956) , Paths of Glory (1957), The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959), Seven Days in May (1964), and Tora, Tora, Tora (1970), which is much better than Pearl Harbor (2001). However, he was a strong television actor. He was a regular on the last year of “Perry Mason” 1959, and The Fugitive 1964-1967.  However, to most of us, he will always be Oscar from “The Six Million Dollar Man” 1974-1978 and on “The Bionic Woman” 1976-1978. Anderson is currently age 90.

Story – Seven Days in May (1964)

The movie credits roll showing the articles of the Constitution .

Monday, May 12

Two groups of picketers are outside of the White House. One group is strongly against President Jordan Lyman and the other is for peace and a non-nuclear world. The former group is carrying signs that say elected Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff four-star Air Force General, James Mattoon Scott ( Burt Lancaster ). If you need a mnemonic for general ranks it is “be my love general” – which means 1-star Brigadier General, 2-stars Major General, 3-stars Lieutenant General, 4-stars just General, and 5-stars General of the Army. There will be a test later.

One of the anti-Lyman protestors attacks the “Peace on Earth” sign and a huge fight breaks out between the two groups. The Capitol Police have to come in and break it up. Inside the White House, the President’s popularity is shown to be 29%. His doctor is examining him while his aide Paul Girard (Martin Balsam) is working. The President is trying to stop a nationwide strike. His doctor wants him to take a vacation but the President says he will swim in the White House pool.

Senator Raymond Clark, D-Ga. ( Edmond O’Brien ) comes in to join the president. They mention that the VP is out of the country. Clark explains that the USA and the USSR will dismantle their atomic bombs as a result of the treaty. Lyman explains why we must have the treaty, so the world is not destroyed. He also advises the Senator to lay off on the booze.

General Scott is testifying in front of a Senate committee. General Scott is explaining why the treaty is a bad idea when Senator Frederick Prentice, R-Calif. ( Whit Bissell ) and Senator Clark gets into a verbal spat. General Scott is flanked by his two aides, Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey, USMC ( Kirk Douglas ), and Col. Murdock (Richard Anderson).

Jiggs is devoted to General Scott. On the way back to the Pentagon, General Scott tells Jiggs that no one on Capitol Hill or in the press corps must find out about the alert scheduled for Sunday, May 18. The General says this “one must be deep and dark, right down the line.”

Back at the Pentagon, Jiggs receives a top-secret communication that was sent out early in the morning to all the key military commanders in the US military asking for their Preakness Stakes bets, the race being run on Sunday, May 18. Of the major commanders that were sent the message, only Vice-Admiral Farley C. Barnswell USN (John Houseman), ComSixthFleet says he will not bet.

Jiggs goes back to his office and finds Colonel William “Mutt” Henderson USA (Andrew Duggan) is waiting. When Jiggs asks where he is stationed, Mutt replies, you know already, I’m exec at EComCon, Site Y. Jiggs is totally in the dark but he gets more information out of Mutt. He finds out it is near El Paso and is commanded by Colonel John Broderick (John Larkin) who is in town to brief General Scott. Jiggs says Broderick is a bit of a Nazi. Jiggs also finds out that they have 100 officers and 3600 enlisted men training for seizure and not protection.

Colonel Murdock comes in and warns Jiggs not to mention the alert. When Jiggs brings up the Preakness bet, Murdock becomes very angry saying it is the general’s personal business. After Murdock leaves Jiggs calls the operator and asks if there is a list for EComCon and there is not.

Later that night, Jiggs goes to a party. He is accosted by Girad who wants to know why the General was so high and mighty at the Senate hearing. Senator Prentice steps into the conversation and gives Jiggs some relief. But he gets drawn back in. Jiggs avoids answering questions about how he feels about the treaty. When Jiggs goes into the other room, he runs into the general’s former mistress Eleanor “Ellie” Holbrook (Ava Gardner). She makes an odd foreshadowing comment for Jiggs to make sure the General rests on the 7 th day. She is talking loud and Jiggs takes her aside and calms her down and tells her that when she is sober she is great to have around. She then asks him to drive her home and he agrees. Before he gets out Senator Prentice tells him he works for the only man that can get us out of this trouble and he needs to stay “Alert” especially on Sunday.

Jiggs has to dump Ellie to go to Fort Myer to see the General. When he gets there he sees Senator Prentice going into the house.

Tuesday, May 13

When Jiggs comes into the office Col. Broderick is in with General Scott. When Broderick comes out he starts goading Jiggs about his liberal views. Jiggs handles it and goes to see the General. Jiggs and the General go over films from the last alert and the results are not good as everyone is moving too slow.

The General lies to Jiggs about what time he went to bed. He tells Jiggs to stay close so they can meet after the General’s meeting. The General also tells Jiggs not to mention the Preakness or the fact that Admiral Barnswell refused. Jiggs notices that the Navy was not at the meeting. He picks up a crumpled piece of paper from Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Hardesty and it reads “Airlift EComCon 40 K212s to Site Y before 0700 Sunday. Chi, New York, LA, Utah.”

Outside Jiggs is flagged down by the Ensign that told him about the Preakness. He is being transferred to Pearl Harbor which he sees as a reward. The ensign says all of the other military leaders came through with their Preakness bets.

Television host and real sunshine patriot, Harold McPherson ( Hugh Marlowe ) introduces General Scott and everything goes like a political rally. Jiggs is shocked by what he sees on television. Although it hurts him, he calls the White House.

Jiggs lays out the slight bit of evidence he has before the president. The nuclear football guy is always by the president. The President’s aide Girard is there as well. Jiggs says that EComCon might mean Emergency Communication Control. General Scott has asked the President to watch the alert without Press, Congress is in recess, and the VP is out of the country. Jiggs has to say that he thinks General Scott is planning a coup for Sunday, May, 18 th . Girard does not believe it. When Jiggs leaves, they bring in Bill Condon from the Bureau of the Budget. The President assembles a team like you should do when you’re under attack, consisting of Art Corwin from Secret Service, Secretary of Treasury Chris Todd (George Macready), Senator Clark, and later Jiggs.

Wednesday, May 14

Todd doesn’t believe it because no one has authorized the funding. The President because his hide is on the line takes it a little more seriously. Art Corwin has to shadow the Joint Chiefs, Chris Todd will coordinate from the White House, Senator Clark is to go to El Paso to find the base. Girard is sent to Gibraltar to get information from Adm. Barnswell who it seems has refused to join the plot. Jiggs is sent to spy on General Scott.

Back at the Pentagon office, General Scott catches Jiggs looking up El Paso on the map. The General feels Jiggs out on his opinion of the treaty and what they should do. He then gives him 72 hours-leave and insists that he leave immediately.

Jiggs meets Senator Clark at Dulles Airport. Before Clark leaves, he asks Jiggs to go see Ellie and see if there is any information on General Scott. Jiggs is sick with himself having to do that dirty work. While getting in his car, Jiggs see Harold MacPherson getting into General Scott’s staff car. Jiggs and the Secret Service driver follow. In a dark alley by the Dobney Hotel, MacPherson goes to meet Senator Prentice. General Scott is there and almost catches Jiggs in the parking garage.

Thursday, May 15

The President says he will not participate in the alert on Sunday and will be going to his private retreat at Blue Lake for some fishing. Scott calls Broderick at Site Y in El Paso. Senator Clark is in a small café outside Site Y. There is a girl (Colette Jackson) hanging around the café. She wonders why there are no men coming from the base when planes are going in and out day and night. She says it is about 50-miles away.

Senator Clark follows the instructions until he finds a dirt road to turn onto. A helicopter zooms in and lands by his car. An armed guard comes out of the helicopter.

Girard makes it to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, that Barnswell uses for his flagship. Girard brings up betting, horse racing, and finally the Preakness. Girard forces him to make a written statement about the plot.

Jiggs shows up at Ellie’s apartment unannounced. Ellie knows that Jiggs is not there to see her. Jiggs kisses her and she asks that he not complicate her life. He kisses her harder.

Girard leaves the ship and phones that he has the confession. Girard hides the note in a cigarette case that was given to him by the President. He then jumps a commercial jet out of Madrid.

Back at Ellie’s house, Jiggs gets Ellie to talk about her feelings for the General. She mentioned that General Scott was a very careful man who never really cared about her. She tells him that he wrote her incriminating love letters. Jiggs picks up the letters while Ellie is out of the room. She walks in and catches him. She thinks Jiggs is doing this to help General Scott out. She is furious and says that Jiggs is always ready to clean the General’s privy before she slaps him.

Friday, May 16

The Secret Service shows a film to the President, Chris Todd, and Jiggs of the Colonels Murdock and Broderick reckoning the President’s home at Blue Lake. Todd is really taken by Ellie’s letters. But Jiggs is still sensitive. The President stops the argument and commends Jiggs for doing the distasteful work. He says he believes they are on top of it, just as the secretary brings in the word the Girard is dead as the plane has crashed.

Senator Clark is being held at Site Y and calls Senator Prentice and is told that they were made aware of the base. Col. Broderick opens a fifth of booze and leaves it in the locked room with the Senator. Clark sees that Girard has been killed in a plane crash and pours the hooch down the drain.

A man from the US Embassy goes to the crash site to look for evidence. The smashed cigarette case is laying on the ground but it will take time to find it.

Back at Site Y, there are two fresh bottles on the night table. Col. Henderson comes in to see the Senator. Clark tells Henderson about Jiggs not knowing about EComCon and that no references were in the JCS orders. Clark says he is going to tell “the damndest story you ever heard.” Henderson decides to get the Senator off the base. But Henderson is betrayed by one of Rodrick’s goose-steppers and the pair are stopped on the flight line by a sergeant. Henderson is driving a super cool tracked dune buggy with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the top. Henderson beats the crap out of the sergeant and escapes.

 Saturday, May 17

Henderson and the senator make it back to Dulles airport in Washington just fine.  Senator Clark steps into a phone booth, that’s like an iPhone attached to the wall and calls the White House.  When he turns around Henderson has vanished.

The President finds out Col. Henderson is being held in the stockade at Fort Myer anonymously.

The President contacts Adm. Barnswell, but with the evidence presumably destroyed in the plane crash, Barnswell denies ever having signed a document.

Chris Todd wants the President to fire the conspirators. The President lashes out that he has no proof. Senator Clarks suggests that he use the letters Jiggs obtained. The President does not want to go to the bottom of the barrel even though he only has 24 hours left.

Scott is back at his command center rehearsing taking over communications when another conspirator, tells him that General Barney Rutkowski, has found out about the transports flying to unauthorized destinations. They suspect that Rutkowski will report directly to the President.

Rutkowski does report to the President and also lets him know that the next flight of transports has been changed from 7 am on Sunday to 11 pm on Saturday. The President orders all of the transports to be grounded.

The President orders General Scott to the White House. The two men meet without a witness. The President confronts Scott with all of the evidence about EComCon. The President demands the resignation of Scott and all of the other leading traitors. The two men verbally spar to no avail. The President gives a lecture on using the Constitution and not usurping power. The President pulls out the letters from Ellie but decides not to use them. The President then demands the resignation of the officers or he will announce it at a press conference in the morning.

When Gen. Scott walks out he sees Jiggs and realizes he has been working for the President. The General walks out without a word. The President gives Jiggs the letters to take back to Ellie.

Sunday, May 18

Scott has decided to record a broadcast that will be aired at 9 pm Sunday night. The other generals are starting to waiver because the plan has fallen apart. Scott leaves for the studio so he can record his broadcast.

The President interrupts the Preakness Horse Race to deliver his press conference. Secretary of Treasury Todd comes out and stops the press conference. Someone from the embassy in Madrid has arrived with the confession written by Adm. Barnswell. The President orders copies sent to Gen. Scott and the other.

When Jiggs gives the letter to Gen. Scott, Scott calls him a nightcrawler and then demands to know if Jiggs knows who Judas was. Jiggs is ordered to answer and says Judas was “a man I worked for and admired until he disgraced the four stars on his uniform.”

The press conference resumes and the President announces his request for resignation. At the television studio, Senator Prentice and Mr. McPherson are panicked by the President’s announcement. Scott rudely dismisses the two.  McPherson won’t let him record his statement. Scott goes back to his HQ and thinks the other generals will stand by him. But before Scott can get back he sees that the three other generals have resigned. Scott gets in his staff car and asks to be taken home.

Jiggs shows up at Ellie’s house to give her back the letters. She asks if the letters were the bullets and Jiggs replies that they might have been. Jiggs asks if he can see Ellie in the future. She agrees.

The President says it is slanderous to say that the US can’t be strong without making war and that peace is the best course. The movie ends by showing the Constitution.

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Seven Days in May (1964) Directed by John Frankenheimer

Film review, film synopsis, similar films.

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Film Credits

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  • Terms of use
  • Paramount Pictures

Summary United States military leaders plot to overthrow the President because he supports a nuclear disarmament treaty and they fear a Soviet sneak attack.

Directed By : John Frankenheimer

Written By : Fletcher Knebel, Charles W. Bailey II, Rod Serling

Where to Watch

movie review of seven days in may

Burt Lancaster

Gen. james mattoon scott.

movie review of seven days in may

Kirk Douglas

Col. martin 'jiggs' casey.

movie review of seven days in may

Fredric March

President jordan lyman.

movie review of seven days in may

Ava Gardner

Eleanor holbrook.

movie review of seven days in may

Edmond O'Brien

Sen. raymond clark.

movie review of seven days in may

Martin Balsam

Paul girard.

movie review of seven days in may

Andrew Duggan

Col. william 'mud' henderson.

movie review of seven days in may

Hugh Marlowe

Harold mcpherson.

movie review of seven days in may

Whit Bissell

Sen. frederick prentice.

movie review of seven days in may

Helen Kleeb

Esther townsend.

movie review of seven days in may

George Macready

Christopher todd.

movie review of seven days in may

Richard Anderson

Col. murdock, secret service white house chief art corwin, party guest, monya andre.

movie review of seven days in may

Malcolm Atterbury

Horace - white house physician, walter bacon, bill baldwin, airline announcer, presidential news conference announcer, john barton, critic reviews.

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Seven Days in May

Composite Score: 81.67

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Martin Balsam, Andrew Duggan, Hugh Marlowe, and Whit Bissell

Director: John Frankenheimer

Writers: Fletcher Knebel, Charles W. Bailey II, and Rod Serling

Genres: Drama, Thriller, Political

MPAA Rating: Approved

Box Office: $3.65 million worldwide

Why should you Watch This Film?

                Seven Days in May tells the story of an attempted military coup in the United States after the president signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. It is an espionage thriller that keeps you guessing as to loyalties, plots, and who is going to triumph throughout. Its plot and message, though targeted to a Cold War audience, remain poignant, familiar, and necessary nearly sixty years after its release. Its performances help drive the dialogue-heavy film’s plot forward, and each is well acted, helping keep you engaged in the complex plot of betrayals and deceptions. A classic of the political thriller genre, Seven Days in May should keep you on your seat’s edge for its entirety.

Why shouldn’t you Watch This Film?

                The film features a subplot about “Jiggs”, the film’s main character, seducing the former mistress of the general at the center of the attempted coup in order to get dirt on him for the president to use if the situation becomes dire. Ultimately, the love letters that Jiggs recovers are not used, and he is able to make up with Eleanor after deceiving her, but the middle of the subplot leaves a dirty taste in the mouth. Jiggs goes to Eleanor’s apartment under the pretext of being interested in a romantic rendezvous, and when she goes to make dinner for the two of them, he sneaks the letters sent by General Scott into his jacket. Eleanor catches him in the act and is disappointed – mainly because he plans to use them against Scott, not at all for the way such info could impact her own lifestyle. Perhaps it is understood that everybody who could matter to her already knows about her and Scott, but it feels like an odd omission for Jiggs, the president, and their whole “side” to not take into consideration the effect such a release could have on the woman in question (something we are more sensitive to in the modern day after the Lewinski scandal and others). This is due, for the most part, to the 1960s and that era of Hollywood and their inconsistent treatment of female characters. Were the film remade in a modern context, no doubt the subplot would be heavily altered and maybe removed entirely.

So wait, why should you Watch This Film?

                For one, the acting in Seven Days in May leaves little wanting. Burt Lancaster plays the charismatic, driven, and incredibly misguided General Scott with all the flair of a modern politician, convinced of his rightness in the face of numerous evidence to the contrary. Kirk Douglas’s “Jiggs” Casey is the reluctant everyman soldier that the film needs in a protagonist, being driven and passionate enough to still be a unique character but also generic enough that any audience member could insert themselves into his shoes. Ava Gardner’s Eleanor Holbrook is at first a convincingly enchanting seductress before shifting in the film’s back half to the sympathetic victim of Scott’s charisma and the machinations of corrupt military brass and politicians. Fredric March plays President Lyman as the determined president, standing by his guns (actually his non-guns) in the face of record-low approval ratings, even delivering a moving presidential address to close the film out, reminding the audience of the importance of our democratic processes even in times of crisis – a speech that would make any Sorkin fan incredibly proud. The other noteworthy performance comes from Edmond O’Brien who received an Oscar nomination for portraying the senior senator from Georgia and longtime friend of the president, Raymond Clark. O’Brien’s portrayal is impassioned and flawed, just as the drunken senator he portrays on screen, representing what seems to be the people’s voice in the midst of the complexity of the film’s espionage plot.

                The film’s message remains resonant, if a tad nuanced, for a modern audience. The urge that comes from President Lyman’s closing speech is one of political efficacy and the impact that our vote can have in a true democracy and the resilience of freedom over authoritarianism and fascism. The speech contains, I believe, the heart of Seven Days in May ’s message, and a good portion of that stays necessary for today’s audiences. Obviously, there are serious flaws in the voting system, and true democracy hasn’t been the actual state of elections in the U.S. maybe ever. However, the message of standing up to fascists and charismatic autocrats when they try to undermine such democratic systems as are in place remains something that the world needs to hear. If anything, since the end of the Cold War, such resistance has become less commonplace, and we need to be reminded of its importance. Also, President Lyman’s hope for peace through disarmament and reducing the size of the military and nuclear arsenals flies in the face of basically everything that the military industrial complex has taught Americans and politicians to believe – to the point that such a treaty would probably still be met with impeachments, attempted coups, and accusations of naivete today – making it a refreshing story to engage with and a poignant one for people who want to see an end to such practices.

                A classic political thriller, Seven Days in May triumphs through its skillful acting and consistently resonant themes of hope in democracy and peace over fascism and militarism. Its questionably ethical subplot about outing an affair only detracts slightly from the film’s complex plot that is praiseworthy for the twists and turns it takes to get to its somber but hopeful ending. From all of these pieces rises a film worthy of its place among the Greatest Films of All Time and one that should be watched by certainly any American and probably a lot of others as well.

movie review of seven days in may

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Seven Days in May

Review by Raphael Georg Klopper

Seven days in may 1964 ★★★★.

Watched Jul 18 , 2023

Raphael Georg Klopper’s review published on Letterboxd:

When the Belief in Duty fails…

1964 was definitely the big year for nuclear war dramas, where the world saw Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and Lumet’s Fail Safe tackling the paranoid social climate woken by the Cuban missile crisis and the anxieties of the nuclear age over completely opposite takes on top of the basic same premise.

Though right in between the two, some would likely forget or just treat John Frankenheimer ’s Seven Days in May as just a neat little minor classic that dealt with the same theme just more “conventionally”. But whereas those two films took into apocalyptical scale or satirical edge, Frankenheimer’s classic shows an astute old-school political thriller that dismantles the danger of extremist ideologies in the face of the panic of losing military superiority, and frames the inevitable moral downfall of all parties under the constitution formed of fear and disparity.

Also in between was where this movie was found amidst Frankenheimer’s own big 60s wave of hits and arguably better celebrated also political thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds , leaving it to fall a bit neglected between the two more edgy electrifying tones, standing against Seven Days in May ’s feeling perhaps more “stoic stage drama”. But under Frankenheimer’s lenses (specially in his hay-days), you’re going to get anything but plain formalism, assured by an always studded command that brings the core material in proficient gripping qualities.

Legendary The Twilight Zone 's writer Rod Serling pens the narrative with razor sharp scripting that builds the escalating situation of the potential military coup within the government as an psychological encapsulation of its political period, carried with a near fictional-ultra reality taste to it, much like his other high-fiction works such as Planet of the Apes and on would prove and filled with a voracious anti-right wing taste; but that feels very authentically grounded, even whiting classy dramatization and top-notch performances from golden age star power of an magnetic assemble.

With the veracity of the situation getting pulled by Frankenheimer’s fierce eye, using his trademarks wide angles and deep scene focus making for detailed theatrically staged compositions and capturing every star in the room, bringing all heads involved into the frame embedded with rich back and forth and amped by ever increasing tension that moves its complex detailed plot that manages to remain relatable and hold the lasting attention that allows you to invest yourself in each scene and not feel let down by any of it.

As the narrative unravels through the echoes of totalitarianism impregnated in the very fabrics of U.S. power, posing the intense extremes of Nationalism, military posturing of defense colliding directly against international democratic cooperation; Authoritarian individualism vs Tolerant constitutional diplomacy when the other looses the fate of its own arms (the military) and heart (the people). What differentiates Seven Days of May from its other aforementioned pears might be the easy more focused political angle, but the stakes at the table are felt just as threatening as all the bombs about to go off, because it aims rightly at the notion that the worst enemy is in the doubt infected amongst the ranks.

That struggle seen between the intimate of ideology and personal lives from the characters get tangled together in a close suffocating level of intimacy that puts the moral and the psychological on the table on a never-ending debate between the two that never comes to easy answers and what men can count on and trust is in their human integrity. All getting superbly brought to life by a fire cast that becomes the chest pieces in this cat and mouse game of extremes and ideologies blurring men’s integral beliefs in the forces that build them up.

Kirk Douglas , Edmond O'Brien , George Macready , even Ava Gardner in a minor role, amongst others, have a least one scene to chew on their talents with great dramatically cathartic pay offs, is even surprising seeing Douglas allowing itself to be left on a restrained almost supporting role at points, but still putting his pungency and gallant straight men to proper use as our eyes and ears into all the moral struggle laid in the story.

Lancaster too, used very sparingly, but effectively, selling his General Scott as this charismatic self-centered ambitious figure with assured certainty about his well intentioned beliefs, but also revealing his single minded and egotistical megalomaniac in equal spare, putting himself and his cause above constitution out of the so proclaimed responsibility for ‘the greater good’. While Fredric March as the president feels like the real protagonist, sturdily playing a man of principle and diplomacy, acting with integrity when the world is asking him to act with evasive oppression.

It may not reach the same levels of its pears, but Frankenheimer doesn’t fail in its assignment of making Seven Days of May as thought-provoking, nail-biting, meticulously crafted and dramatically powerful. JFK himself asked for this movie to be made so there’s more than valid merit for its existence!

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Cinema Faith - Movie reviews and commentary through a Christian lens

Seven Days in May

movie review of seven days in may

Cinema Faith Grade

“The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience,” Rod Serling, the adaptor of Seven Days in May , addressed the Congress in 1968. “He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism…”*

Serling’s vehicle was a bulldozer, through which he endeavored to level the systems built to steal and control; then he jumped out to flip over whatever tables hadn’t been flattened already. In the company of the “angry young men” of the 1950s U.S. theatre scene, Serling out-raged them all; he was the united states of indignation, a patriot, critic, moralist and egotist. His personally assigned role as the lone voice in the wilderness was at turns sanctimonious and earnest, and it still carries.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think this movie could be made today,” Director John Frankenheimer speculates in the commentary, recorded in 1999. “I think all the values in the country have changed so drastically since the days of President Kennedy…in recent years, the way the office of the presidency has been debased – I don’t think that the public would accept a President as idealistic.” Frankenheimer died just before he was proven wrong. The West Wing (1999-2006) featured not only an idealistic president, but also a Serlingian style. The show was received with a surge of recognition, even relief, and when its creator, Aaron Sorkin, was asked if he could add any one writer to his staff, his answer was Rod Serling. So perhaps that lone voice is one we still need to hear.

Insupportable Negligence

In the near future of 1970, a President, Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), is once again declaring the end of a war, this time a Cold one, cracked open and passed between Americans and Soviets for over 20 years. The mean justifying this end is a nuclear disarmament treaty to be signed by both nations and characterized by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Scott (Burt Lancaster) as “insupportable negligence.”

movie review of seven days in may

“It was a time of tremendous tension, of tremendous fear in our country,” Frankenheimer recollects. “We’d just come out of the whole horror of McCarthyism…We were engaged in a real cold war with the Soviet Union…there was tremendous fear we were all going to be annihilated…There was [sic] a great many Americans who agreed with the philosophy put forth by General Scott…we tried to present him as a sane, but dangerous, antagonist.”

The Idolatry of Heroism

But General Scott wasn’t an antagonist to Serling and Frankenheimer, who served in the Army and Air Force, respectively. “The enemy is an age,” President Lyman philosophizes, “a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man’s faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, a sickness of frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness. And from this, this desperation, we look for a Champion in red, white and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration.”

It’s a searing speech, Serling’s lightning called down upon the idolatry of heroism, a notion that, as Walter Brueggemann articulates, “we can live outside history as self-made men and women.” Yet throughout the script, for every strike against the Military Industrial Complex, there is a counterstrike against Liberal Pacifism. And yes, one strikes out in the story, because Serling had a point of view – but it was through a wide-angle lens, which makes Frankenheimer a perfect match for him.

Forcing Perspective

“Every shot I do forces perspective,” confesses Frankenheimer. “And I’ve done that my entire career. It’s just something that is inherent in the way I tell a story. I think it puts you into the film.”

movie review of seven days in may

To a degree this sensibility can be explained by Frankenheimer’s directorial training during TV’s brief ascension to the summit of drama in the mid-‘50s, when teleplays were “the biggest sociological game in town”*** and Serling wrote some of the best. Each man’s work pointed to the other’s, in a Chinese finger trap of tight, tense storytelling .

Condition for Continued Existence

Enhancing the film’s immediacy was its unprecedented access to the White House, due to fans of the original novel in President Kennedy and his administration. That production trivia became a bittersweet memory after November 22, 1963. In a documentary Serling was summoned to create, which introduced the world to Kennedy’s successor, a then-unknown Lyndon B. Johnson, he wrote:

To the Leftists and the Rightists, to the Absolutists, to the men of little faith but strong hate, and to all of us who have helped plant this ugly and loathsome seed that blossomed forth in Dallas last Friday – this is the only dictum we can heed now. For civilization to survive it must remain civilized. And if there is to be any hope for our children and theirs – we must never again allow violence to offer itself as an excuse for our insecurities, our own weaknesses and our own fears. This is not an arguable doctrine for simply a better life. It is a condition for our continued existence.

Such writing is only sanctimonious in that it claims something is sacred. It is only abstract in that we refuse to practice it. And it is as simple and complex as Colonel Jiggs says near the beginning of May : “Do your duty and…ask for divine guidance.”


*For this, and further information and insights, I am indebted to Gordon F. Sanders’ extensively researched and sharply written biography, Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man .

**See The Birthday Party , The Iceman Cometh , The Boys in The Band. These were not film adaptations, they were film incarnations – each possessed by the play it was charged to interpret.

***Andrew Sarris, Dimensions .

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movie review of seven days in may

Ben studied theatre at Wisconsin Lutheran College and graduated from the film program at Full Sail University in Orlando. Moving to NYC, he worked in casting for television and wrote film reviews for Relevant Magazine. For 9 years, Ben served in various roles on staff at Acacia Theatre Company in Milwaukee; currently he continues as their media contact. Soulstice Theater produced his second play, Starlings, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described as "a conversation making as smart and moving a contribution to the halting dialogue between homosexuality and Christianity as I’ve seen on stage." Recently, Ben relocated to Chicago and is trying to write the second act of his life.

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Seven Days in May

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Produced by, released by, seven days in may (1964), directed by john frankenheimer.

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Seven Days in May

This and Fail-Safe , released the same year, are the classic Cold War dramas ( Dr. Strangelove being the best—and only—Cold War comedy ). This one is the better of the two, I think, though it doesn’t really involve the threat of nuclear annihilation. The idea of a military takeover of the US government is scary enough for me, and of course it would be done by just the sort of steely-eyed “patriot” Burt Lancaster so brilliantly portrays here. Kirk Douglas and Fredric March and Edmond O’Brian and Ava Gardner are all good, but it’s Burt’s picture. An excellent script by Rod Serling and direction by John Frankenheimer make Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey’s novel so plausible it could give you nightmares, because you know there are guys just like James Matoon Scott lurking in the endless halls of the Pentagon, who would just love to bring down this president.

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SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (director: John Frankenheimer; screenwriters: from the novel by Fletcher Knebel & Charles W. Bailey II/Rod Serling; cinematographer: Ellsworth Fredricks; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Frederic March (President Jordan Lyman), Kirk Douglas (Colonel Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey), Burt Lancaster (General James Mattoon Scott), Edmond O’Brien (Senator Raymond Clark), Martin Balsam (Paul Girard), Ava Gardner (Eleanor Holbrook), Andrew Duggan (Colonel William Henderson), Whit Bissell (Senator Prentice), John Houseman (Vice-Adm. Farley C. Barnswell); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Lewis; Paramount Pictures; 1964) “Gripping political thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Frankenheimer’s (“The Manchurian Candidate”/”The Train”/”The Young Savages”) gripping political thriller is based on the best-selling novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, and the screenplay is by Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame. Its demagogue usurper character is reportedly based on the views of the far-right member of the John Birch Society, General Edwin Walker.

President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) has just signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union and his poll numbers are very low. Not only is the public displeased with him, but the presidential ambitious charismatic Air Force Gen. James M. Scott, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, considers it a treasonable act and says so publicly–you can’t trust the commies.

Scott’s loyal aide, Martin “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas), becomes suspicious of his boss when he accidentally learns of both a top secret base in Texas and of cryptic messages among the Joint Chiefs. When Casey believes that his boss is leading the other Chiefs of Staff in a coup to occur seven days later in May, he reports his suspicions to the President. As a result, Sen. Raymond Clark (Edmond O’Brien) is sent to investigate the secret base. Clark locates the base but is taken captive. He eventually breaks out with the help of Jiggs’s colonel friend, Henderson (Andrew Duggan). The President next sends his press secretary, Paul Girard (Martin Balsam), to Gibraltar, who obtains a statement from Admiral Barnswell, a Joint Chief who refused to go along with Scott. But on the return trip Girard is killed in a plane crash, and a fearful Barnswell denies signing the statement.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

But things don’t rest there, as Casey obtains from Scott’s former mistress, the Washington hostess, Eleanor Holbrook (Ava Gardner), some incriminating letters. Armed with all this information, President Lyman demands the charlatan’s resignation in a confrontation and when things turn completely against the once heroic general, he resigns and the coup never materializes.

The acting by Lancaster, March and Douglas is superb. Frankenheimer keeps it frighteningly chilly, tense, thought-provoking, and realistic. The possibility of such a foul deed happening is very real, and this charged melodrama gives us a good idea of how such an insider coup may look.


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Movie Review: ‘Seven Days in May’ (1964)

Movie Review: ‘Seven Days in May’ (1964)

‘Seven Days in May’

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movie review of seven days in may

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Seven Days in May (Blu-ray)

movie review of seven days in may

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

You ever wonder what would happen if someone tried to overthrow the U.S. Government? We overtook this country by defeating the British, but what would happen if someone rallied to claim the government away from the president and other political leaders? Well, that is exactly what General Scott (Burt Lancaster), the very popular head of the Joint Chiefs, plans to do. Scott planned to run for the Oval Office in two years, but since he is a lock to win and no one seems like to like the current president, he decides to cut out the middle man and just take the office right now. The unpopular president (Fredric March) has just passed a nuclear disarmament bill through Congress, but it seems as though that may stand as his final motion while in power. After seeing a strange series of events involving General Scott, Col. Martin Casey (Kirk Douglas) reports his beliefs to the proper folks, but by the time they see the evidence needed, there are only seven days until the attempted take over. Can the president’s forces align a defense that can prevent that coup d’etat before it’s too late?

When you talk about political thrillers, no discussion would be complete without mentioning Seven Days In May , which is one the finest the genre has to offer. This has all the elements needed to create a powerful thriller, great writing, a wonderful cast, and a director who knows what he’s doing in the subject matter. When all these ingredients are thrown in the bowl here, the result is a masterpiece, one of the best political films of all time. I think the idea of the U.S. government being sacked is a sweet concept, and the process involved in developing that concept is well planned and executed here. This is the type of movie that starts fast and never slows, until the final conflict has been resolved, and that’s the way a film like this should be. This is a tense film in mood, but not in motion, so if you need constant action to keep you awake, this isn’t the film for you. I like the use of atmosphere and dialogue to develop the tension, and I feel the film is stronger because of it. Too many thrillers these days rely on guns and action, leaving the true tension out in the rain. I recommend this movie to fans of the genre, or those looking for some solid acting and directing. The disc is better than most, so a purchase would be justified.

This film was directed by John Frankenheimer, who knows the political thriller genre better than anyone, in my opinion. While he makes films of other varieties, it seems as though he always returns to this genre, and with good reason, he makes some of finest films the genre has to offer. This is not his best work, but certainly up there, which is saying something, given the number of powerful films he has made. I highly recommend you explore his resume, as it is littered with quality films such as The Manchurian Candidate , Grand Prix , and Ronin . The screenplay for this film was penned by Rod Serling, and was based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, Jr. If you recall the name of Rod Serling, it’s with good reason, as he is the man behind The Twilight Zone, which kick ass, if you ask me. This film boasts a terrific cast, including powerful performances from Burt Lancaster (Scorpio, Airport), Kirk Douglas (Spartacus, Paths of Glory), Ava Gardner (Earthquake, On The Beach), and Fredric March (The Dark Angel). Martin Balsam (Cape Fear-1991) gives an impressive supporting performance as well.

Video: How does it look?

Seven Days In May was given a nice 2K restoration by Warner Archive and it shows, quite literally. This is a black and white film, so the key element to a good image is contrast and it’s been improved from the previously-released Warner DVD. Being a black and white film, the blacks are deeper and richer, while the contrast makes for a much cleaner and smoother image all-around. Detail has been improved as well. Simply put, this new restoration breathes new life into this film.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original mono mix has also been re-mastered for a new DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that sounds pretty good. Given that the film is now over 50 years old, I was expecting the worst, but this is actually a fairly active mix. Granted the track is limited with the 2.0 mix, so directional effects are a bit sharp, but dialogue is loud and clear, with no volume or separation issues to speak of. It won’t test the limits of your system, but it’s a major improvement over the DVD mix.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The same supplements found on the DVD have been ported over here.

  • Audio Commentary – The commentary track, recorded in 1999 (just three years prior to his death) is by director John Frankenheimer. He gives a pretty candid talk about the film, its influence and even goes so far as to say that “…it could be made today” (given the obvious time span). It’s a well thought-out and informative track that’s sure to please fans of the film. Though fans of the film have probably already heard it as it’s the same one that was present on the DVD.
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

Over half a decade later, Seven Days in May holds up as a good drama. While not quite as impressionable as Dr. Strangelove , it’s got a solid cast that all deliver some fine performances. Warner has done a fine job with the restoration on both the audio and video and though no new supplements are included, the commentary is fairly intriguing.

movie review of seven days in may

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movie review of seven days in may

Movie review: ‘Housekeeping for Beginners’ a riveting domestic tale of blended queer family

From left, Samson Selim as Ali, Vladimir Tintor as Toni, Anamaria Marinca as Dita and Sara Klimoska as Elena in “Housekeeping for Beginners.”  (Focus Features)

Anamaria Marinca has a knack for playing characters you’d want in your corner during a crisis. The Romanian actress, who starred in Cristian Mungiu’s harrowing abortion thriller “4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days,” is the eye of the storm in Goran Stolevski’s “Housekeeping for Beginners,” a riveting domestic drama that finds her similarly raging against the machine.

No one smokes a cigarette with such quietly harried intensity as Marinca, and there is no forgetting her glittering stare, both of which Stolevski uses to great effect. In his third feature in as many years –this one selected as the North Macedonian Oscar entry for best international film – the Macedonian Australian filmmaker plunges us into the swirling eddy of merry but harrowing chaos among an unusual family. The film is a showcase for the skill and screen presence of the criminally underrated Marinca, who stars as Dita, a lesbian social worker trying to hold together her tribe by sheer force of will, coaxing and cajoling the system in order to knit together her queer found family.

There’s a deeply humanist core to Stolevski’s work, which varies in genre and tone, but always captures the bittersweet beauty of life. He made his feature debut with “You Won’t Be Alone,” a life-affirming fairy tale in which Marinca co-starred as a grotesquely disfigured witch. His sophomore feature, “Of an Age” is a queer romance about two young men who connect in a Melbourne beach town.

We enter “Housekeeping for Beginners” with a burst of joyous song, as Ali (Samson Selim), Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) and Mia (Dzada Selim) dance and sing around a living room. Their carefree fun is quickly juxtaposed with a burst of rage, in a doctor’s office, as Suada (Alina Serban), with Dita by her side, explodes at a bored, negligent doctor. She’s furious at him for ignoring her and other patients who look like her – Roma. With these two scenes, Stolevski establishes the film’s message and tone, weaving together childlike play and mischief with the crushing reality of racial and sexual inequality.

Stolevski, who wrote, directed and edited the film, delivers the relevant story details in snippets of dialogue and visual asides snatched out of the river of familial hubbub that is captured with a roaming handheld cinematography by Naum Doksevski. Dita and Suada are partners, and Suada’s kids, Vanesa and Mia, live with them in Dita’s home. Their gay roommate, Toni (Vladimir Tintor) had Ali over for a hookup, but he’s so much fun he becomes one of the stray queer kids they collect, which also includes a trio of young lesbians (Sara Klimoska, Rozafa Celaj and Ajse Useini) who seek refuge in this “safe house.”

Suada has cancer, and knowing that her prognosis is terminal, she demands that Dita become the mother of her girls, in her final, fierce act to secure their future. She also requests that Dita give them Toni’s last name so that they might escape the discrimination she faced as a Roma woman. The girls need legal guardians, and that is how a stressed lesbian and grumpy gay man find themselves married. To each other.

Within its restless, naturalistic aesthetic, Stolevski crafts complex and poignant images, contrasting the play-acting the couple is forced to do with their searing gazes. At a parent-teacher conference, condolences are delivered to Toni, but the camera rests on the bereaved Dita’s face, unable to openly grieve the loss of her longtime partner. Their courthouse wedding is also a study in ironic double-meaning, as Ali sits next to his lover Toni, but only as a witness. At their raucous, booze-soaked celebration at home later, Ali thanks Dita for the opportunity to sit in front of the marriage registrar with the man he loves.

There’s no preciousness or over-explication about the sociopolitical and economic issues that shape their reality and make up the fabric of their lives: how they move in the world, the risks they take, the dreams they have. It is a quotidian kind of oppression, rendered here as a series of irritating clerical hoops, though the consequences of not jumping through them could be deadly.

While the subject matter is sobering, there is a dry humor at play, coupled with real warmth. Dzada Selim steals the movie as the precocious Mia, and if Dita is the spine of the family, Ali is the heart, his ability to connect proving valuable when Vanesa’s teenage rebellions spiral out of control.

Stolevski’s scripts always bear a line that pierces at the heart of life itself, and “Housekeeping for Beginners” is no exception. “It doesn’t go away, the needing,” Dita promises Vanesa, “even when you get old. It’s a nasty business.” It’s a beautifully, brutally apt way to describe a family, and the human condition, perfectly, concisely expressed in the way only Stolevski can.

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