Welcome to today’s show, Seven Days in May (1964), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
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.
Fredric March plays seemingly weak President Jordan Lyman. March was first covered in Episode 67 – The Buccaneer (1938).
Martin Balsam plays the president’s aide Paul Girard. Balsam was covered in Episode 26 – Time Limit (1957).
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 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.
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 elect 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 Capital Police have to come in and break it up. Inside of 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 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 7th 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, 18th. 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 Generals 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 Presidents 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 the 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 deny’s 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 the 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 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 resignations. 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 others 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 slander to say that the US can’t be strong without making war and that peace is the best course. The movie ends showing the Constitution.
World-Famous Short Summary – Boy has trouble asking a girl out
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Beware the moors