Seven Days in May

This 1964 drama was based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. The screenplay was written by Rod Serling.

Burt Lancaster plays General James Mattoon Scott, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kirk Douglas plays Marine Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey. Nothing needs to be said about the performances of these two actors because they always turn in excellent acting jobs. Fredric March is President Jordan Lyman and I can’t think of anyone who would play him better. Ava Gardner has the role of Elinor Holbrook, the ex-girlfriend of General Scott. Edmond O’Brien is the bourbon drinking Senator Raymond Clark from Georgia and Andrew Duggan is Colonel Henderson. John Houseman has a small role as Vice-Admiral Barnswell.

Edmond O’Brien was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar but Peter Ustinov won for Topkapi. The movie was remade for cable in 1994 and was called The Enemy Within.

Some critics have suggested that the movie is dated and the plot driven by the hysteria of the times. The word “hysteria” suggests an uncontrollable and maybe even irrational fear of nuclear war. There was nothing irrational about the fear to anyone who lived through those times when backyard bomb shelters were being sold on street corners and school children were taught to “duck and cover”. The fears people have today are much more “hysterical” than they were back in the early 1960’s when this movie was made.

There have been reports that I can’t confirm that President Kennedy wanted this movie made so badly that he allowed filming in the White House. These same reports claim that he feared a military overthrow of the United States Government. I don’t know if this is true or merely hype or urban legend. In any case, he didn’t live to see the movie completed.

Cast

  • Burt Lancaster-General James Mattoon Scott
  • Kirk Douglas-Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey
  • Fredric March-President Jordan Lyman
  • Ava Gardner-Eleanor Holbrook
  • Edmond O’Brien-Senator Clark
  • Martin Balsam-Paul Girard
  • Andrew Duggan-Colonel Henderson
  • Hugh Marlowe-Harold McPherson
  • Whit Bissell-Senator Prentice
  • Helen Kleeb-Esther Townsend
  • George Macready-Christopher Todd
  • Richard Anderson-Colonel Murdock
  • Bart Burnes-White House Secret Service Chief