Seven Days in May

From Academic Kids

Seven Days in May is a political thriller novel [current hardcover edition: ISBN 0060124369] written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey. The novel was made into a movie in 1964, with screenplay by Rod Serling.

The plot

The novel and film tell the story of fictitious President of the United States Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), who bears a striking physical similarity to real-world U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson but whose political views more closely mirror those of the late Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft. The time is May, sometime in the 1970s (although the film was released in 1964.) As the story begins, Lyman faces a wave of public dissatisfaction with his decision to ratify a treaty with the Soviet Union, an agreement that will supposedly result in both nations simultaneously destroying their nuclear weapons under mutual international inspections. This move is extremely unpopular with segments of the President's political opposition and with the military, who each believe the Soviets cannot be trusted.

As the debate over the treaty rages on, an alert and well-positioned Pentagon insider, USMC Colonel Martin "Jiggs" Casey (Kirk Douglas) becomes aware of a conspiracy including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and led by his own superior officer, the charismatic head of the JCS, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), who along with their allies in Congress and the news media are plotting to stage a coup d'etat to forcibly remove President Lyman and his cabinet from office seven days hence. The plot itself, called ECOMCON (for "Emergency Communications Control"), entails the seizure of the nation's entire telephone, radio, and television network infrastructure by a secret Army combat unit created and controlled by Scott and based at Fort Bliss, Texas. Once this is done, General Scott and his co-conspirators will control the nation's communications and military assets from a vast underground nuclear shelter called "Mount Thunder" (based on the actual Alternate Seat of Government maintained by the U.S. at Mount Weather in Berryville, West Virginia) and use them to prevent the ratification of the treaty. Although personally opposed to President Lyman and to the treaty, Casey is appalled by the existence of this unconstitutional cabal and brings his findings to Lyman and his inner circle.

As the countdown to takeover begins, both sides maneuver behind the scenes. Colonel Casey is sent by President Lyman to ferret out secrets that can be used against General Scott, forcing him to cruelly deceive the general's former mistress, the vulnerable and winning Ellie Holbrook (Ava Gardner) in order to obtain certain salacious love letters written to her by the general. When Ellie discovers Casey's true intentions, he must choose between his growing affection for her and his oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. Meanwhile, Scott and the conspirators take action against Lyman's closest advisors, the aging and alcoholic Georgia Senator Raymond Clark (Edmond O'Brien) and earnest White House aide Paul Girard (Martin Balsam), as they race against time to block the ECOMCON plot.

More on the film

Actor John Houseman (playing the uncredited role of ECOMCON conspirator Admiral Farley Barnswell) debuts in the film, and a young Richard Anderson, better known as Oscar Goldman from the 1970s ABC-TV hit series The Six Million Dollar Man, makes an early screen appearance as well as Pentagon aide Colonel Murdock. John Frankenheimer directed the film, which garnered several prestigious awards, including the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for O'Brien and the Best Art Direction-Set Decoration/Black-and-White Oscar nomination for Cary Odell and Edward G. Boyle. Edward O'Brien also won a Golden Globe award for his performance in the film.


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