Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seven Days in May

John Frankenheimer, 1964, bw (9.2*)
[Posted on Burt Lancaster's birthday, who would have been 97 today]

One of director Frankenheimer's best is also one of the most interesting and rewarding from the long career of impeccable actor Burt Lancaster, Oscar® winner for Elmer Gantry. Here he plays an ultra-patriotic military hero, General Scott, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a likely future Presidential candidate, and a vocal critic of President Fredric March (who has two well-deserved Oscars® for actor, acting in his last film) and his support of a nuclear disarmament treaty with the USSR.

Leading a surge of anti-presidential sentiment are a phalanx of right-wingers, who use television to stir up the public against the treaty (some things never change). Kirk Douglas plays a staffer of General Scott's who thinks he uncovers some coded messages and a subversive plot within the military. With a countdown style plot, the viewer is in 'edge of the seat' status throughout the entire film. An aging but still classy Ava Gardner adds some romantic interest, which seems a bit superfluous to this plot.

Faithfully adapted from the best-selling novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II (with a screenplay from Rod Serling), Frankenheimer has made one of the best political thrillers of all time, in classic black and white, with almost documentary style cinematography from Ellsworth Fredericks. Frankenheimer said that the scene with Fredric March confronting Burt Lancaster in the White House was the most rewarding he ever shot (after March requested many extra rehearsals) - with three Oscars® between the two actors, it's a rare classic mano a mano between two of the best in front of the camera. A very spooky scenario for those who think "it can't happen here".

Lancaster was Frankenheimer's favorite actor, of whom he said "just watching him walk across the room was art in itself". In Frankenheimer's WW2 classic The Train, Burt did all his own stunts, once leaping on a moving train, and often limping badly from an injury that occurred during the shooting.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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