Seven Days In May

Seven Days In May (1963)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes

Sandwiched between the paranoia classic ’The Manchurian Candidate’ and the Faustian shocker ’Seconds, ’ John Frankenheimer’s gripping political thriller ’Seven Days In May’ debuts on DVD with a spiffy looking transfer and a thoroughly satisfying audio commentary track by Frankenheimer himself.

’Seven Days In May’ charts the battle of wills between a pacifist President (the excellent Fredric March) determined to end the insanity of peace based on nuclear deterrence and the hawkish Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Burt Lancaster, just as compelling) resolved to ’save’ America — at all costs. A secret message accidentally intercepted by a watchful colonel (Kirk Douglas) uncovers a conspiracy to overthrow the United States Government. A series of showdowns ensue between the two opposing forces, triggering a race against time to thwart the coup d’etat.

Fleshed out with a superior cast, Frankenheimer’s assured direction and a keen Rod Serling script, the film shines in scenes where March, Douglas and O’Brien recite beautifully written passages about the nature of power and the absurdity of nuclear ’peace.’ The confrontation between Lancaster and March in the Oval Office is simply electrifying, especially when one realizes it is only two men talking in a room. Unfortunately, the narrative falters with a strained subplot involving Douglas and Ava Gardner, as Lancaster’s ex-mistress. In the 37 years since ’Seven Days In May,’ the course of human events may have rendered much of the film’s urgency moot, yet its message of strength through peace still holds relevance today.

The black and white transfer is marvelous. Exhibiting a 1.85 anamorphic widescreen picture, the video image displays solid black levels with a minimum of grain. Detail and shadow delineation are sharp and clear.

With the exception of a stirring Jerry Goldsmith score, the mono soundtrack is mainly dialogue-driven. The Dolby Digital audio shows remarkable fidelity, revealing nary a crackle or a pop.

Special features include a theatrical trailer that’s in just as good a shape as the feature film, informative production notes and a thoroughly engaging full-length commentary track by Frankenheimer. His anecdotes and reminiscences are flavored with his genuine appreciation for the format’s capabilities. I found Frankenheimer’s observations so enjoyable, I watched the film through a second time.

To get a nail-biter of a film, a polished presentation and a phenomenal commentary track, all for $25…this DVD is a steal. Highly recommended.