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.