Home News The Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling Wrote A Classic Political Thriller

The Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling Wrote A Classic Political Thriller


1964 was a sterling year for Hollywood Cold War thrillers. The world was coming off of the Cuban Missile Crisis, so fear of nuclear war was even higher than usual. Stanley Kubrick’s “Doctor Strangelove” and Sidney Lumet’s “Fail Safe” both centered around nuclear armageddon born of communication breakdowns. “Seven Days in May” is the third leg in this triptych. 

While Serling was a master of satire, “Seven Days in May” is closer to the straight-laced “Fail Safe” than the farcical “Strangelove.” Directed by John Frankenheimer (coming off of “The Manchurian Candidate,” about a brainwashed Korean War veteran), the film is a conspiracy picture full of suspense and intrigue.

The set-up: President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) has negotiated a nuclear disarmament treaty with the USSR. Most of the American public is opposed, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster). Scott’s right-hand, Colonel Martin Casey (Kirk Douglas) discovers evidence that his boss is planning a military coup against Lyman to stop the treaty from being signed. It’s especially dangerous because Scott has the public support needed to cement his power should he try to grab it. The supposed coup is set to go off in less than a week, so Casey is on a tight deadline to both get to the bottom of the plot while convincing the President of the danger. But who else can they trust?

The film is believed to be based in part on General Douglas MacArthur and his squabbles with President Harry Truman over Cold War policy (MacArthur was removed from power by Truman in 1951). Though it mixes history and speculation, “Seven Days in May” feels all too relevant to the present day, where many Americans have proven willing to give away their democracy to strongmen demagogues.

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