Thursday, May 10, 2018

American coup d’état

A charismatic, media-savvy US general publicly attacks a president over a disarmament treaty with a dangerous foreign power as a prelude to a coup d’état in this 1964 political thriller.

In John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May, Burt Lancaster is U.S. Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, war hero and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Scott uses the right-wing news media that worships him to enflame popular opinion against liberal President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) over a comprehensive disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.

Apart from a great conspiracy yarn, Frankenheimer and screenwriter Rod Serling also tell a tale about the rule of law. Fascism here is not simply rule by military fiat, but an impatience with and intolerance or misunderstanding of the system by which the US constitution directs government to exercise its authority through the legislative process, courts and elections. 
White House picketers in Seven Days in May.
We first see Scott’s image on signs carried by anti-Lyman picketers outside the White House in a demonstration that quickly turns violent. Jerry Goldsmith’s music heightens the drama and Ferris Webster’s editing gives this black-and-white film a raw, realistic documentary feel.

The story comes from a 1962 bestseller of the same title by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. A concern at that time was that high-profile military men such as General Douglas MacArthur, venerated by the US public after the Allied victory in World War II and leading the crusade against Communist ‘world domination’, would exploit the public’s ignorance of civics with the rhetorical comfort food of square-jawed patriotic talk.

President John F. Kennedy reportedly liked the novel. He discussed with co-producer and co-star Kirk Douglas how it might be filmed and allowed White House access to the production team. But Kennedy never saw the movie. Its December 1963 release date was postponed two months after he was assassinated in November.

Although occasional cranks turn up in the highest ranks, it seems less conceivable then than it does now that a member of the Joint Chiefs, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, would grandstand as Scott does here on national television.  
General James Mattoon Scott on national television in Seven Days in May.
Kirk Douglas is Marine Colonel Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey, administrative director of the JCS. Casey respects Scott as his boss but does not agree with his politics; he does not agree with the administration, but abides by its authority. He is not part of the plot. Casey gets wind that something is up on a Monday morning—the first ‘day in May’—when Lt. Junior Grade Dorsey Grayson (Jack Mullaney), a young staff officer, unknowingly quips about an office betting pool among the top brass (which earns him an immediate transfer to Hawaii).
Jack Mullaney and Kirk Douglas in Seven Days in May.
The betting pool involves the upcoming Sunday running of the Preakness Stakes, an annual horse race held in Baltimore, Maryland, on the third week in May. (The race is run on Saturday, not Sunday. Several background cues address this discrepancy by noting that this is to be the ‘first ever’ Sunday running of the race.) The race date coincides with the date of a top secret alert known only to the president and the JCS.

Through an officer friend, Casey incidentally also learns of a brigade-sized Army Special Forces unit called ‘Ecomcon’ at a secret base called ‘Site Y’ in the desert in west Texas, commanded by signal corps officers. He surmises that Ecomcon is a military acronym for ‘emergency communications control’; he can find no official authorization or funding source for the unit or the base.

Casey kids offhandedly with Scott’s aide about the Preakness pool and gets a terse, angry warning not to discuss the alert or the pool. Scott himself later asks Casey more collegially to keep the pool confidential. Further circumstantial clues implicate a California Senator and a right-wing media broadcaster, among other things. And then the cautious Scott gives Casey ‘the rest of the week off’.

On Tuesday night, Casey visits the White House to share his concerns with President Lyman and his aide Paul Girard (Martin Balsam), who quickly assemble a crisis-management team. Lyman’s skeptical team works round the clock from Wednesday to Sunday hoping to disprove Casey’s hunch, but preparing for the contingency that he is right as more evidence comes to light.

All the president's men strategize in Seven Days in May
The ‘seven days’ are the days from Monday to the Sunday horse race. The action is set in the ‘near future’—May 18 fell on Sunday in 1969 and 1975—but beyond the seven days at issue, chronological time in this story is vague.
Lyman in the end calls ‘a whisper’ that the US ‘somehow lost our greatness’ a ‘slander’. But he also earlier rebukes an advisor that neither Scott and the generals, nor the ‘very emotional, very illogical lunatic fringe’ are ‘the enemy’.
Frederic March as President Jordan Lyman in Seven Days in May
The enemy, as Lyman sees it, is an age which has ‘killed man’s faith in his ability to influence what happens to him.’ He said that this produces a sickness which brings about ‘a frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness’, and in our desperation, ‘we look for a champion in red, white and blue.’

‘Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration. For some men it was a Senator McCarthy…now it’s a General Scott,’ the president said.

Seven Days in May 1964 U.S. (118 minutes). Directed by John Frankenheimer; written by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Chares W. Bailey II; cinematography by Ellsworth Fredricks; music by Jerry Goldsmith; edited by Ferris Webster.

Friday, May 4, 2018

film review index by country

Photomontage by Sally Geier.
Carancho 2010 Argentina

Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) 2000 Argentina
Animal Kingdom 2010 Australia

The Interview 1998 Australia

The Proposition 2005 U.K./Australia
Revanche (Getting Back) 2008 Austria
À deriva (Adrift) 2008 Brasíl

Tropa de Elite 2-O Inimigo Ahora É Outro (Elite Squad 2-The Enemy Within) 2010 Brasíl
Дзифт (Zift) 2008 Bulgaria

Slings & Arrows 2003-6 Canada (three six-episode seasons)

Protégé (門徒 Moon tow—Cantonese; Mén Tú—pinyin) 2007 Hong Kong

A Touch of Sin (天注定  Tian zhuding) 2013 China

Czech Republic
A Páty Jezdec je Strach (The Fifth Horseman Is Fear) 1964 Czechoslovakia

Protektor 2009 Czech Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Viva Riva! 2010 Democratic Republic of the Congo

ID:A 2011 Denmark

Cronicas (Chronicles) 2004 Ecuador

Pépé le Moko 1937 France

Le Corbeau (The Raven) 1943 France

Quai des Orfèvres 1947 France

Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon) 1956 France

Bob le Flambeur 1956 France

Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) 1964 France

Tzameti (13) 2005 France

La faute à Fidel! (Blame It on Fidel) 2006 France

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) 2008 France

Joueuse (Queen to Play) 2009 France

Un prophète (A prophet) 2009 France

À bout portant (Point Blank) 2010 France

Copie conforme (Certified Copy) 2010 France/Italy

Gainsbourg: vie héroïque (Gainsbourg—A Heroic Life) 2010 France

Ricky 2010 France

Sarah’s Key 2012 France

La vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1 et 2 (Blue Is the Warmest Color) 2013 France

Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) 1930 Germany

Die mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are among Us) 1946 German Democratic Republic

Der Fall Gleiwitz (The Gleiwitz Case) 1961 German Democratic Republic

Karbid und sauerampfer (Carbide and Sorrel) 1963 German Democratic Republic

Nackt unter Wölfen (Naked among Wolves) 1963 German Democratic Republic

West Germany
Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life) 1968 West Germany/Greece

Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead) 1975 West Germany

Germany Post-Reunification
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul 2005 Germany

Gun-shy (Schussangst) 2003 Germany

Im Juli (In July) 2004 Germany

Die Innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) 2000 Germany

Jerichow 2008 Germany

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Princess and the Warrior) 2000 Germany

Schussangst (Gun-shy) 2003 Germany

Soul Kitchen 2009 Germany

Vision—Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen (Vision—From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen) 2009 Germany

Κυνοδοντας [kinodontas] Dogtooth) 2010 Greece

Kisses 2008 Ireland/Sweden
Footnote (הערת שוליים‎ [He'arat Shulayim]) 2011 Israel
Bellissima 1951 Italy

Il posto (The Position) 1961 Italy

Il momento della verità (The Moment of Truth) 1965 Italy

Pane e tulipani (Bread and tulips) 2000 Italy

La doppia ora (The Double Hour) 2009 Italy

Brudermord (Fratricide) 2005 Luxembourg/Germany/France

Aventurera (The Adventuress) 1950 Mexico

El Topo (The Mole) 1970 Mexico

The Holy Mountain 1973 Mexico

El imperio de la fortuna (The Realm of Fortune) 1986 Mexico

Demony wojny w/g Goi (Demons of War [according to Goya]) 1998 Poland
Необычайные приключения мистера Веста в стране Большевиков (Neobychainye priklyucheniya mistera Vesta v strane Bol’shevikov—The Extraordinary Adventures of Mister West in the Land of the Bolsheviks) 1924 U.S.S.R.

Летят журавли [Letyát zhurávli] (The Cranes Are Flying) 1957 U.S.S.R.

Печки-лавочки [Pyéchki-lávochki] (Happy-Go-Lucky) 1972 U.S.S.R.

Мы едем в Америку [My yédem v Amériku]— אמצריקצ אין פארן מיר [Mir forn in Amerike]—We Are Going to America 1992 Russia

Девятая рота [Devyátaya róta] (Ninth Company) 2005 Russia/Ukraine

Мое счастье [Moyó schást’ye] (My Joy) 2010 Russia

Солнце [Sóln’tse] (The Sun) 2005 Russia
Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) 1955 Spain

Viridiana 1961 Spain

Intacto (Untouched) 2001 Spain

Los Lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun) 2002 Spain

El orfanato (The Orphanage) 2007 Spain

Celda 211 (Cell 211) 2009 Spain

Biutiful 2011 Spain

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) 2011 Spain
South Korea
The Chaser (추격자 [Chu-gyeok-ja]) 2008 South Korea

Mother (마더 [Madeo]) 2009 South Korea

Poetry ( [Shi]) 2011 South Korea

Secret Sunshine (밀양 [Miryang]) 2007 South Korea

Untold Scandal (스캔들 - 조선 남녀 상열지사 [Seukaendeul - Choseon nam nyeo sang yeol jisa]) 2003 South Korea

추격자  [Chu-gyeok-ja] (The Chaser) 2008 South Korea

마더 [Madeo] (Mother) 2009 South Korea

밀양 [Miryang] (Secret Sunshine) 2007 South Korea

스캔들 - 조선 남녀 상열지사 [Seukaendeul - Choseon nam nyeo sang yeol jisa] (Untold Scandal) 2003 South Korea

[Shi] (Poetry) 2011 South Korea
Searching for Sugar Man 2010 Sweden/U.K.
Das Fraülein 2006 Switzerland
Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) 2011 Turkey
United Kingdom
The Ring 1927 U.K.

A Cottage on Dartmoor 1929 England

The Lady Vanishes 1938 U.K.

Night Train to Munich 1940 U.K.

Free Cinema 1952-1963 U.K.

Good Times, Wonderful Times 1966 England/U.S.

The Day of the Jackal 1973 U.K./France

The Long Good Friday 1980 U.K.

Wasp 2003 Scotland

Red Road 2006 Scotland

Man on Wire 2008 U.K.

Fish Tank 2009 England

Page Eight 2011 U.K.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 2011 U.K.

Zen 2011 U.K. (one three-episode season)

Endeavour 2012 U.K.

Skyfall 2012 U.K.

Darkest Hour 2017 U.K.
United States (by period)

The Silent Era
Traffic in Souls, or While New York Sleeps: a Photodrama of Today 1913 U.S.

Hypocrites 1915 U.S.

Lady Windermere’s Fan 1925 U.S.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Sunrise) 1927 U.S.

The Patsy 1928 U.S.

Hollywood before the Hayes Code
The Divorcée 1930 U.S.

The Maltese Falcon (aka Dangerous Female) 1931 U.S.

Heroes for Sale 1933 U.S.

International House 1933 U.S.

Midnight Mary 1933 U.S.
Golden Age
Satan Met a Lady 1936 U.S.

Make Way for Tomorrow 1937 U.S.
Moon over Harlem 1939 U.S.

New Orleans 1947 U.S.
Film Noir
Born to Kill 1947 U.S.

Daisy Kenyon 1947 U.S.

The Big Steal 1949 U.S.

Border Incident 1949 U.S.

Gun Crazy 1949 U.S.

The Set-Up 1949 U.S.

Mystery Street 1950 U.S.

Night and the City 1950 U.S.

Clash by Night 1952 U.S.

The Narrow Margin 1952 U.S.

The Big Combo 1955 U.S.

Illegal 1955 U.S.

Blast of Silence 1961 U.S.
Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin
Little Fugitive 1953 U.S.

Lovers and Lollipops 1955 U.S.

Weddings and Babies 1958 U.S.
Fabulous Fifties & Sixties
Pat and Mike 1952 U.S.

I Confess 1953 U.S.

A Face in the Crowd 1957 U.S.

Damn Yankees! 1958 U.S.

Anatomy of a Murder 1959 U.S.

The Misfits 1961 U.S.

Seven Days in May 1964 U.S.
Topkapi 1964 U.S.
On the Bowery 1956 U.S.

In the Year of the Pig 1968 U.S.

La ciudad (The City) 1998 U.S.

The Mark of Cain 2000 U.S./Russia

Tabloid 2010 U.S.
Raging Bulls
Who’s That Knocking at My Door 1968 U.S.

Fat City 1972 U.S.

The Man 1972 U.S.

King of Comedy 1982 U.S.
Spanish America
Quinceañera 2006 U.S.

Ladrón que roba a ladrón (It Takes a Thief to Rob a Thief) 2007 U.S.

Cruzando (Crossing) 2008 U.S.

Sin nombre 2009 U.S./Mexico
And after
Reversal of Fortune 1990 U.S.

Happiness 2006 U.S.

Beginners 2011 U.S.

The Ides of March 2011 U.S.

Martha Marcy May Marlene 2011 U.S.

The Tree of Life 2011 U.S.

Win Win 2011 U.S.

Hitchcock 2012 U.S.

The Counselor 2013 U.S.

The Post 2017 U.S.