Saturday, February 18, 2017
SEVEN DAYS IN MAY
(February 1964, U.S.)
It is the year 2017 and we are currently living in a state of political chaos! This is largely due to the unfortunate fact that there were enough American citizens with the right of free vote who chose to put a "man" like Donald Trump into the world's highest office on Election Day of November 2016. I've told people that it feels like the 1960s all over again in this country, and even though I cannot attest to the events of that era personally because I was only born in 1967, I've ready and viewed my fair share of history to know just how deep we sank into fear, paranoia, protest, political unrest, and violence. So now, as we appear to be reinventing and re-imagining our concept of the Cold War with Russia all over again, watching John Frankenheimer's SEVEN DAYS IN MAY feels not only quite timely, but even necessary to reflect where we once were in history and the potential we are presently experiencing to return to those chaotic days.
Some history first; the film was released in 1964 and John Kennedy was already dead. The original book, however, was written between 1961 and 1962 during JFK's administration and reflected the political events of the time. JFK had accepted the resignation of Edwin Walker, an anti-Communist general who was indoctrinating the troops under his command with personal political anti-Communist opinions. Although no longer in uniform, Walker continued to be in the news as he attempted to run for Governor of Texas and made strong speeches promoting his right-wing views.
In this film (the screenplay by THE TWILIGHT ZONE's Rod Serling, no less), as it's set in the future of the early 1970s, the fictional President of the United States Jordan Lymann (played by Frederic March), mentions General Walker as a "false prophet" offering himself to the public as a new and effective leader over the current administration he feels is weak (sound familiar Mr. Trump??) and in the position of putting the American people at the mercy of the Soviet Union by negotiating away our nuclear arms with them by entering into a disarmament treaty. While public debate and dissatisfaction over this act rages, General James Mattoon Scott (played by Burt Lancaster and intended to reflect the real-life Edwin Walker) is secretly plotting a coup d'etat to remove President Lyman and his cabinet members in just seven days. According to the plan, an undisclosed Army combat unit known as ECOMCON (Emergency COMmunications CONtrol) intend to seize control of the country's telephone, radio, and television networks, while Congress is thereby prevented from implementing the treaty with the Soviets. On the opposite side of this plot, Colonel Martin Casey (played by Kirk Douglas), although personally opposed to the President's position, is shocked by the unconstitutional intentions he's discovered and alerts the President of the potential threat against him. Lyman forms a small inner circle of trusted friends and advisors to investigate the matter. By the time Scott is discovered as the architect of the takeover against his own government, he is hardly sorry or regretful of his actions. He remains determined to step in and place himself as leader of our country in the name of the American people, their anti-Communist values, and his own personal agenda of power.
The film's message is very clear in that we as American citizens in control of our own free lives, are meant to have faith and trust the intentions and the value of our beloved President, and those that would step up against him, even American soldiers, are meant to be the ones we don't want to see win the day. Still, the debate at both ends is valid. Those who remember and experienced the fear of the Cold War and the potential threats from the Russians would likely shudder at the thought of our nuclear arms defenses being given away in a treaty with those who were considered our enemies of the era. On the other hand, those of my generation will recall the crumble of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1980s and the newfound trust we had with our new friends the Russians. Those of today's generation are watching potential secret connections and deals between our newly-sworn-in President Trump (geez, I can't believe I actually have to say that for the next four to eight years!) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. By today's political unrest, the thought of a militry coup against Trump's administration might seem a very welcomed idea, indeed. Is it wrong or is it right? Is it proper justice served? Is it American? These debatable questions don't easily go away, even after more than fifty years!
Favorite line or dialogue:
General James Mattoon Scott: "And if you want to talk about your oath of office, I'm here to tell you face to face, President Lyman, that you violated that oath when you stripped this country of its muscles - when you deliberately played upon the fear and fatigue of the people and told them they could remove that fear by the stroke of a pen. And then when this nation rejected you, lost faith in you, and began militantly to oppose you, you violated that oath by not resigning from office and turning the country over to someone who could represent the people of the United States!"