Seven Days in May

Produced by Joel Productions and Seven Arts Productions for $2.2 million, released Feb. 19, 1964, by Paramount and Warner Bros., 35mm widescreen black and white, mono sound, 118 mins.

poster from IMDb




This film is a Cold War thriller about a fictional attempted military plot to take over the government of the U.S. from a liberal president who is seeking a disarmament treaty with the Russians, but who is opposed by a right-wing Joint Chiefs and television announcer and politicians. The book and film were inspired by the disarmament debate at the end of the Eisenhower years and start of the Kennedy years. Conservatives had been critical of Eisenhower's attempts at disarmament from "Open Skies" at Geneva in 1954 to the "Spirit of Camp David" in 1959. The Russians and Americans suspended nuclear testing in 1958 but failed to agree on a Test Ban Treaty. Kennedy favored such a treaty in 1961 but was diverted by the "missile gap" and Bay of Pigs invasion and the Berlin Wall crisis in August 1961. Russia resumed atmospheric nuclear testing in August 1961. The Joint Chiefs had been urging Kennedy to resume testing during 1961 but the President and Prime Minister Macmillan sought a treaty with the Russians. Finally, Kennedy gave in and resumed underground testing in September and atmospheric testing in March 1962. The growing Cold War tension in 1962 would produce the Cuban Missle crisis in October. President John F. Kennedy admired the novel so much that he allowed Frankenheimer to film outside the White House in late 1963, but the Department of Defense objected to the negative portrayal of the military and refused cooperation. Screenwriter Serling had expanded the antimilitary theme beyond the novel's emphasis on peaceful disarmament. After the confrontation between President Lyman and General Scott at the end of the film, Lyman says the enemy is not the general but the nuclear age: "It happens to have killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him."


revised 11/10/00 by Steven Schoenherr at the University of San Diego | Filmnotes