Seven Days in May

   This post is part of Classic Movie Blog Associations “Politics on Film.”  Blogathon.

In the opening scenes of “Seven Days in May,” we find picketers from both sides of the political spectrum demonstrating outside the White House. Tempers are high. A riot breaks out, and the police arrive attempting to break up what has turned into a free for all. Those divisive times were over fifty years ago. It’s amazing how times have not changed. Today it is no different, tolerance and respect are in short supply. For many of us, emotions are driven by fear. We live in a period where Americans fear foreigners, terrorists, North Korea, Iran, Nuclear war and more. Fear drives irrational behavior.

     Based on a novel written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey, and published during the Kennedy administration, the roots of Seven Days in May go back to the late 1950s and one Major General Edwin Walker. Walker was a staunch anti-communist with strong political views, which he had no problem sharing with those under his command. He labeled former President Truman, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others including then-current President Eisenhower communists. He protested to President Eisenhower about sending Federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to assist with the integration of schools. Walker was a follower of Rev. Billy James Hargis, who believed the Civil Rights Movement was a communist plot. Walker was also an acquaintance of Robert Welch Jr., a co-founder of the John Birch Society. Walker submitted a resignation letter to Eisenhower, which the President refused to accept. After the election of J.F.K., Walker once again sent a letter of resignation. Kennedy accepted it. Walker was out, though his ties to Kennedy did not end there.  The novel’s authors used Walker as a major inspiration for the character of U.S. Air Force General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, James Mattoon Scott, portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the film.

     Kirk Douglas purchased the film rights to the book, and despite Pentagon objections received the blessings of then President Kennedy to make the film. Burt Lancaster agreed to play Scott and John Frankenheimer to direct, this despite his misgivings of working with Lancaster again after having problems during the making of Birdman of Alcatraz.

     President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) recently signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union going against the opinion and recommendations of his military advisors. Scott is especially perturbed and considers the President’s move an act of treason. The American public has reacted by giving Lyman a twenty-nine percent approval rating.

    Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas), Scott’s aide, comes across some strange inexplicable information: various cryptic data sent between Joint Chiefs of Staff members, a secret military base located in a barren area of Texas. Suspicious, “Jiggs” suspects that Scott and a group of other senior military are planning a coup. The military takeover is scheduled for the following Sunday when the President will be isolated during a military practice alert. Though he has no definitive proof, “Jiggs” goes to the President who gathers a group of trusted advisers to investigate the claims. The President sends faithful Georgia Senator Raymond Clark (Edmond O’Brien) to Texas to investigate the secret military base. He finds it and ends up held in confinement. Presidential aide Paul Girard (Martin Balsam) is sent to the Mediterranean to “talk,” basically draw out a written confession from Vice Admiral Barnswell (John Houseman).  Girard gets it, but on his way home is killed in a plane crash over Spain. The confession, tucked in a cigarette case, a gift from the President, lies in the wreckage. Additionally, “Jiggs” obtains some discriminating letters from Scott’s former lover, Eleanor Holbrook (Ava Gardner) to use against Scott. The President does not want to use the letters, we’re never told what they contain, though he is encouraged by his staff to use them. Scott, by any means necessary, must be stopped.

     When the President confronts Scott, the General denies it all. He is convinced the public is behind him and not a weak President. Leyman is about to confront Scott with the letters, but at the last minute stops himself. Later, after a meeting with the other Joint Chiefs, Scott tells them of his meeting with the President, and that he has no solid evidence. They need to stay united and move on with their plan on Sunday. However, before the plot is put in motion, the President holds a press conference demanding the resignation of Scott and the other Chiefs of Staff. During the press conference, the President is informed that Girard’s cigarette case was found and contained Barnwell’s handwritten admission of the plot. He orders copies be made and sent to Scott and the others. The coup is over. The President addresses the nation saying, “There’s been abroad in this land in recent months a whisper that we have somehow lost our greatness, that we do not have the strength to win without war the struggles for liberty throughout the world. This is slander because our country is strong, strong enough to be a peacemaker. It is proud, proud enough to be patient. The whisperers and the detractors, the violent men, are wrong. We will remain strong and proud, peaceful and patient, and we will see a day when on this earth all men will walk out of the long tunnels of tyranny into the bright sunshine of freedom.”

     Though made more than a half a century ago, Lyman’s film ending speech remains thought provoking and a powerful indictment on those who believe the only road to peace is through bigger and bigger bombs. War is the answer. As Lyman says, “our country is strong, strong enough to be a peacemaker.”

     Seven Days in May is a perfect companion piece to director John Frankenheimer’s previous paranoid/political film, “The Manchurian Candidate,” Frankenheimer remains faithful to their respective sources. The film is one of the finest and frightening political thrillers ever made.  Frankenheimer’s sharp direction is nicely complemented by Ellsworth Fredericks low-key, almost noir-like cinematography, and Jerry Goldsmith’s menacing score magnificently assists in setting the mood. The entire cast is impressive: Burt Lancaster is like a tightly wound clock, and far more evil than had he been his loud, typical over-acting self; Kirk Douglas had the tough role of blowing the whistle on his boss, a man he admired; Frederic March makes for an admirable President who has lost the confidence of the American public, but must stick to the principals he believes are right, and Edmond O’Brien gives a typically steady performance as the boozy Senator from Georgia. Others in the cast include the still beautiful Ava Gardner, Andrew Duggan, George Macready, Whit Bissell, Hugh Marlowe, and Richard Anderson.

President John F. Kennedy read the novel and found it credible enough to believe it could happen here. Assassinated in November 1963, Kennedy never did get to see the film. Still, there is one more connection between J.F.K. and Seven Days in May.  On April 10th, 1963, retired General Edwin Walker, whom Lancaster’s character was inspired by, was in his home sitting at a desk when a bullet came through his window, fragments from the shattered window wounding Walker. While there is no definitive proof the shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald, he was known to hate Walker considering him a fascist. Oswald’s wife Marina later testified after the Kennedy assassination that her husband told her he was going to shoot Walker. However, by the time the FBI found out about this connection, Lee Harvey Oswald is shot and killed by Jack Ruby.

‘Tis the Season is Here!

John Greco Author/Photographer

Christmas may seem far away, but it’s closer than you think, and will be here before you know it. With that in mind, today is the release date for ‘Tis the Season, my new four short story collection mixing Christmas and crime. The four tales consist one old and three new tales. In Home for the Holidays two brothers reunite on Christmas Eve. Let’s just say it doesn’t turn out well. Next up is a revised version of A Merry Little Christmas which originally appeared in Devious Tales. Favorite Time of the Year deals with a troubled marriage and a final solution. In ‘Tis the Season a hitman with a soft spot for the holidays may or may not have a holly jolly Christmas. The holidays can bring out the worst in everyone, and does so in these four short Christmas themed stories. ‘Tis the Season is not…

View original post 13 more words

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 5

John Greco Author/Photographer

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

Man

John Ford’s brilliant western is both a romantic, three-way, love story and a look at the west on the cusp of change. Watching it again I realized how political a movie this is. There are battles between two factions. Those who want to remain a territory and those who want to become a state. It’s a typical rich versus the everyman battle. The future versus the status quo. Even the film’s love story, a triangle between a tenderfoot, a gunslinger, and the woman they love represents a dying western way of life. John Ford blends it all together with this filmmaking classic, his last great western.

The Graduate

grad

Some films are indelibly burned into your psyche for many reasons. It may have to do with the heart of every audience member jumping into their throats the first time the shark comes out of the…

View original post 407 more words

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 4

Here is scene 4 in my Movies Watched in Quarantine series

The Roaring Twenties

roa

WNEW Channel 5 broadcast, on Sunday afternoons, one Warner Brothers movie after another. The Roaring Twenties was a mainstay. It was James Cagney’s last gangster film until White Heat some ten years later.
The Roaring Twenties is a rise and fall tale, in this case, of Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) a World War 1 vet who came home alive but with no prospects for the future. His old job as a mechanic is taken. He settles for a job driving a taxi with his old buddy Frank McHugh, that is until he accidentally stumbles in the bootleg business. With prohibition now the law of the land Eddie builds an empire becoming the king of New York. His old war buddy, George (Humphrey Bogart) works with him. However, like in many of his early roles, Bogie is a sniveling weasel who cannot be trusted. He runs true to form here.
Eddie’s world comes crashing down with the end of prohibition, and the girl (Priscilla Lane) he loved, but never loved him back. The film ends with one of the great endings of all time. Severely wounded in a shootout, Eddie is left stumbling along a snowy street, collapsing in front of a church in the arms of another woman (Gladys George). When asked by a cop what he did, she replies, “he used to be a big shot.”
Cagney, along with Raoul Walsh’s sharp direction drives the film never letting a moment of dullness creep in.

Da 5 Bloods

bloods

There are a few rare times in history when art and life collide at the perfect moment in time. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is one of those films that has come out at the right moment when the anguished cries of Black Lives Matter have been in the headlines and history is being made. Lee has delivered what may be the best and most innovative film of the year. The director intercuts archival and newsreel footage into the film, nicely providing historical content. Da 5 Bloods is a thought provoking work about war, America, and race. Delroy Lindo leads the way in a cast of superb performances. There have been many films about The Vietnam War some great (Apocalypse Now Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Hearts and Minds) and others that have been false takes of the war including The Green Berets, any and all Rambo and Missing in Action movies. Fortunately, Spike Lee’s new epic tale falls into the first category. Watch on Netflix.

The Boston Strangler

boston-001

Based on Gerold Frank’s non-fiction best-seller. In the early 1960s, 13 women were strangled in the greater Boston area. The unknown killer was labeled the Boston Strangler. It made national news. Albert DeSalvo was eventually arrested and confessed to the hideous crimes. The 1968 film claims to be a true representation, but as with almost all fact based films there is plenty of fiction tossed in. This a typical police procedural spruced up with plenty of unnecessary “modern” split-screen effects that add nothing. Unlike Richard Brooks’ earlier true crime film, In Cold Blood (1966), which delves deep into the personalities of the killers, the filmmakers here though seeming to want to make a serious film couldn’t help themselves to make a sensationalistic tabloid feature. Tony Curtis gives what may be his best performance and was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination. Henry Fonda co-stars. Look for future stars Sally Kellerman (one of DeSalvo’s victims who survives) and James Brolin. 

Out of Sight

out

Elmore Leonard created some of the most quirky characters to ever grace the page. In “Out of Sight,” Steven Soderbergh, along with screenwriter Scott Frank, captures Leonard’s tone and spirit perfectly. Leonard has generally not been served well when translated to the screen. “Get Shorty” and this film are the exceptions. Cheeky, sexy, witty, and poignant with a few unexpected bursts of violence. The performances are all pitch-perfect. Clooney is full of wisecracks and charm. Jennifer Lopez, in a pre J-Lo performance, has never been better possessing both a toughness yet vulnerable facade. The rest of the cast includes. Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Isaiah Washington, Steve Zahn, and Nancy Allen all deliver spot-on performances.

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 3

Scene 3 in my series

John Greco Author/Photographer

Here is scene 3 in my list of Movies Watched in Quarantine.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

dead1

 With the mood, the ambiance, the Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, the perfect deadpan voice-over by Steve Martin, we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain-filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all, that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an affectionate, funny, and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames, and mean darkly lit streets.

Murder By Natural Causes

Murder 5

Written by William Levinson and Richard Link (creators of Colombo) the 1979 Made for TV movie is a clever and devious story filled with one twist after another, and when you think you have it figured out, there’s another twist. A must-see for mystery lovers. I originally saw this on CBS…

View original post 310 more words

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 2

Scene 2 in this series!

John Greco Author/Photographer

Here are a few more films I  watched while social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic which is still not under control. Here in Florida it continues to spread. I hope everyone is staying safe. Please wear a mask, it’s not that big a sacrifice. I know you can handle it  Anyway, as I shelter from the storm, here are a few thoughts on some of the films I’ve watched. More to come!

Misery

Misery2

Whether you are a musician, writer, actor, artist or any other public figure, you know having fans is an integral part of the experience. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted. However, with some fans there comes the point when that devotion takes a turn toward some very dark places; far from the ordinary, toward the bizarre, the maniacal or even worst. Fan is short…

View original post 835 more words

Movie Watching in Quarantine

First in a series!

John Greco Author/Photographer

As a writer, I stay home and write. That’s the nature of the process, but when I put my photographer’s hat on I am outside. Again, that’s the nature of the process. Covid-19 has put my photography on hold. Sure, I can do indoor photography, but my taste has usually run toward the outdoors.
These days, I’m spending more time inside than out. My writing is at its best in the early hours. Subsequently, to pass the time I read, and I have been watching movies, movies and more movies.
I have been posting on Facebook a few thoughts on most and decided to share a few here.

Cape Fear

CA605AC8-BDE8-47CC-9581-DEBB288922CF

Cape Fear one of the great thrillers from the early 60s. Robert Mitchum’s revenge-seeking crazed Max Cady is one of cinema’s great psychopaths. What makes his performance so effectively terrifying is his laid back style. He’s a relentless, vengeful, monster…

View original post 436 more words

New Mae West Documentary on PBS

On June 16th, American Masters premieres MAE WEST: DIRTY BLONDE, a new documentary on her life and times. Check local listing for the exact time. Check out this link for more details.

 

Classics for Comfort Blogathon

Classics for Comfort Singing in the Rain Banner 1

This is my contribution to CMBA’s CLASSICS FOR COMFORT BLOGATHON.

A few years back, I wrote a post entitled Celluloid Comfort Food. My opening paragraph read like this, there is a certain reassurance in watching your favorite films over and over again. The act of repeated watching is like getting together with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. You talk about the same old stories; you laugh or maybe even cry about those bygone glory days. Similarly, when watching a favorite movie, you know where the jokes are. You can expect those laughs long before they come on screen. If it’s an old gangster film, you know you have to watch just one more time as James Cagney takes that long last walk toward the electric chair. Either way, there is a level of contentment that flows in you with the familiarity of repeatedly watching a favorite film. You forget about the world outside, the troubles inside your head, for two hours, and relax with pure celluloid comfort food.

I wrote about five films that I found comfort in watching: Being There, Stagecoach, Buck Privates, Adam’s Rib, and My Favorite Brunette. During these days of “stay home, stay safe” I have had to look further into my cinematic archives and discovered I have many, many other films that I can find comfort in and shelter me from this ongoing pandemic storm.

Continue reading

National Classic Movie Day: 6 From the 60s

Here is my contribution to the National Classic Film Days Blogathon: 6 From the ’60s.

6 from the 1960s Blogathon (1)

The 1960s was a wild decade filled with good times, (The British Invasion, classic rock and roll, the youth movement, a young invigorating President, and man landing on the moon. But there were plenty of bad things too.  Racial unrest, political assassinations, and the Vietnam War topping the list. The Times They Were A Changin’

Movies were changin’ too. The old Hollywood studio system was on its last legs. They were fighting TV and an advanced guard of new filmmakers influenced by European filmmakers. Here are six of my many favorites…

Rosemary’s Baby

rosemarys-baby-scary-sexy-movies-1

Motherhood can be a joyous thing; the miracle of birth, a child the result of a bond between two people. Watching the child grow and discover life can be heartwarming and reaffirming. Then again, the idea of a live organism, another person growing inside you, just might be a bit unsettling and disturbing as you watch your body change, and who knows what the child will be like. He/she could turn out to be a bright, upstanding member of the community. Then again, your little precious could turn out be another Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer or even worse.

Many films have focused on the dark side of motherhood: Psycho, Mildred Pierce, and Mommie Dearest. There are plenty of other films with motherhood gone wrong. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate is another of the big bad mothers. On the other side of the fence are mothers who love too much; they are self-sacrificing and end up with a daughter like Veda in Mildred Pierce. Continue reading