Review: Seven Days in May (1964)

What if the US military couldn’t get behind a Command in Chief who supported a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Russians and instead planned a coup so that it could replace the “dove” president with its own “hawk” leader, General Scott (Burt Lancaster)?

The thoughtful and disturbing film Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Knebel, Charles Bailey II and Rod Serling, and directed by The Manchurian Candidate director John Frankenheimer explores just this scenario and it’s a doozy of a film where you’re never sure whether Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas) is paranoid, spinning a fantasy about nothing more than a military exercise scheduled for a few days in the future or blowing a whistle on a carefully planned, widely supported military coup.
What most interests me about Seven Days in May is its snapshot of the paranoia of the Cold War era, where the enemy — the Soviet Union — was big, powerful, well-armed and dangerous and where a single nuclear missile could change the balance of world power and spark World War III. It was a dark time in history and comparing it to the abstract psychological war that we’re facing now with the suicide bombers and terrorists who have infiltrated our society, it’s amazing to see the clarity, the black-and-white situations that are no longer part of the military equation.
And back in 1964 when the film came out, were there thousands of troops secretly training at a military base known as ECOMCON to overthrow the government? As Casey explains to President Lyman (Fredric March) part-way through the film, he thinks the troops will be deployed to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Utah. “Why Utah?” “The telephone company has important relays for all its long lines going through Utah, sir.”
Could we ever see a military overthrow of the government? You’ll have to watch this dark and frightening movie to find out.

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