Seven Days in May – Blu-ray Review

The Movie (5/5)

Political turmoil is basically the only language we know how to speak these days. Whether it’s the current activity of our sitting president, or elections and voting in other countries, we’re knee deep in the political mud these days. It seems appropriate then, that the Warner Archive group has picked this month to release John Frankenheimer’s 1964 motion picture Seven Days in May. Featuring an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Ava Gartner, as well as a script by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling and music by Hollywood legend Jerry Goldsmith, the film is a tense political thriller that depicts an America overwhelmed by a charismatic leader who preys on fear and emotions rather than logic and facts. A film that carries many parallels to the world we live in today, it was nominated for two Academy Awards during its original release, and made over 3.5 million dollars in rentals, making it a success for Paramount, the studio that released it to theaters.

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Seven Days in May drops you straight into the middle of political mayhem; after signing a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union, fictional president Jordan Lyman finds himself under fire from his political opponents and the American people who refuse to trust the Soviets. While heavy debate rages over the treaty, dissent boils to the surface in the military, as Colonel “Jiggs” Casey uncovers a secret division known as ECOMCON that will seize control of the television, radio, and telephone networks across the US. Believing it to be an initiative led by Air Force general James Mattoon Scott, who has been outspoken again the government’s signing of this treaty, he takes this information to the president. Together, they form an elite task force to lead an investigation, the results of which drive up tensions as a massive plot is revealed. Opening up like a black hole in the center of our system of government, everything is consumed and everything becomes suspect as Casey and his team try to save the American way of life.

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Set during the height of our Cold War with the Soviet Union, the film is a tense, slow burning experience that, as you could have guessed, takes place over seven days as a team of top political and military advisors join forces to defeat a military coup d’etat to wrestle power away from the pacifist minded President Lyman, played by two time Academy Award winner Fredric March, who gives an appropriately conflicted performance as the leader of our nation. He plays the character as both vulnerable and somehow confident as he tries to rationalize with the American political machines his motivations and logic behind the signing of such a controversial treaty. Leading the coup d’etat from the other corner of the ring is General James Mattoon Scott, played with gusto and fervor by another Hollywood legend, Burt Lancaster. Playing against his traditional type, he plays more of a politician than a general, giving grandiose speeches to sway the American public and using his military capitol to intimidate and silence his opposition.

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Leading the multi-man team that digs into the ECONCOM mystery, and the film’s overall lead is Kirk Douglas as Colonel Casey. Delivering a grounded, conflicted performance due to his character’s political ideologies not aligning with the president’s, he masterfully handles betraying his friends in order to preserve the staples of our democracy. Joined by a supporting cast that includes the likes of Edmond O’Brien, Martin Balsam, Andrew Duggan, and Hugh Marlowe who play various aids to the president and United States senators, they carry out a slow, but tense and believable investigation into the secret military machine that threatens to depose the president. Dragged into the mess and used as ammunition against General Scott is Eleanor Holbruck, Scott’s mistress, played by Eva Gardner, who delivers an understated, yet sensual performance as she’s tossed around and manipulated by the men in her life.

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The film, which runs a little under two hours in length, has been edited in such a way by Editor Ferris Webster that it moves agonizingly slow, but in a way that allows the film to build tension and give room for character development. Each plot point is well developed, and nothing gets haphazardly swept under the rug to make room for contrived spectacle or unwarranted action sequences. Seven Days in May is full of such great performances and writing that it doesn’t need such traditional action movie tropes.

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In the wrong hands, a story such as Seven Days in May could have gotten lost in the Hollywood shuffle. It could have easily become an action movie, or so ham-fisted that it would have lost its sharp dramatic edge. Instead, Frankenheimer and his cast and crew have managed to put something together that is not only relevant today, in a time when people are so easily caught up in fear-mongering and rampant emotions, but something that is also thought-provoking and engaging on every level. This is the kind of movie that should be studied, and taught for years to come.

The Video (5/5)

Seven Days in May was shot on 4-perf 35mm film with spherical lenses, and presented in the standard flat 1.85:1 aspect ratio in theaters. For this release, Warner Archive has provided a new HD master, from which this 1080p transfer was created. The film has been ever so slightly opened up to the 1.78:1 aspect ratio for Blu-ray.

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As usual, Warner Archive treats a smaller, less remembered 60s films as if it was a prestige blockbuster of the era in bringing Seven Days in May to Blu-ray. Although it starts with a rather soft shot of the US Constitution, we are quickly treated to a black and white image that is draped in a multitude of lovely blacks and greys. Although the film isn’t noir, it features some excellent high contrast lighting throughout the film that is really enhanced by phenomenal black levels and great contrast. The image is finely textured with a layer of organic looking film grain, and is for the most part sharp, detailed, and pristine. I can’t imagine Seven Days in May looking any better than it does here today.

The Audio (4/5)

Seven Days in May was presented in theaters with a mono optical soundtrack on film prints. That track has been recreated here with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack.

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Like all Warner Archive releases, this movie has a perfectly serviceable mono soundtrack in playback. Honestly, I sometimes feel like I’ve run out of things to say about these mono tracks. They’re all cleanly presented, well layered, and the mixing never feels off in any way. Dialogue is fine, and Goldsmith’s score is engaging and well placed throughout the film. I honestly don’t have much else to say about it.

Special Features/Packaging (3/5)

Seven Days in May has been released to Blu-ray by the Warner Archive group in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The front artwork features a stylish redesign of one of the foreign release posters for the film, which features the three lead actors and the lead actress in interconnected portraits against a stark black background, with the title below the frames. The back artwork features a large red-toned portrait of Burt Lancaster in character next to a few smaller frames from the film, a review quote, and two paragraphs about the film. Below is a list of features, theatrical credits, and technical specs for the release. Excellent, high contrast artwork from the Archive group makes for quite stylish packaging.

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Onto the feature:

Commentary – feature length audio commentary, recorded by director John Frankenheimer. He talks at great length about how the film came to be, and how the film was made. It includes various anecdotes from the production, so it’s a pretty interesting and well delivered commentary.

Theatrical Trailer – the film’s trailer, as seen before it’s original release in 1964.

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It’s light on features, especially if you don’t particularly like commentaries, but has excellent packaging, staying true to the Warner Archive reputation for its Blu-ray releases.

Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)

Video

Region Coding: None

Codec: AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Audio

DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles

English

Runtime: 118 minutes

Overall (4.5/5)

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Seven Days in May is a slow burning, effective political thriller led by a substantial cast that all bring their A game to the table. It is a film that’s carried on both emotion and intellect, and carries some strong and interesting parallels to the political climate we exist in today, making it all the more valuable as a cultural examination piece. As with almost all of their home video releases, Warner Archive has given the film new life through a phenomenal 1080p video presentation, and a great mono audio track. Like the cherry on top of a sundae, the film’s packaging looks great too. Recommended.

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