Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1964. Joel Productions, Seven Arts Productions. Screenplay by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel, Charles W. Bailey II. Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks. Produced by Edward Lewis. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Production Design by Cary Odell. Costume Design by Wesley Jeffries. Film Editing by Ferris Webster. Academy Awards 1964. Golden Globe Awards 1964.
John Frankenheimer followed his masterful The Manchurian Candidate with another political thriller, this one featuring a less humorous streak of paranoia running through its plot. The script by Rod Serling features Kirk Douglas as an army officer working under right-wing General Burt Lancaster, a man who objects to the proposal by the American President (Fredric March) that the country sign a peace treaty with Russia. Evidence surfaces that leads Douglas to suspect that Lancaster is planning a military coup, and after sharing his findings with March, the President and his team have only a week to find a way to keep the administration safe while preventing the public from learning about this plot and causing a national crisis. Intelligent, stream-lined and elegant, this film is so smart it will make your head hurt, all of its situations play naturally despite a story that, in description, threatens to turn ridiculous at any moment. The emphasis is never on nick of time saves or melodramatic reveals, the drama unfolds through exchanges in which egos are pitted up against each other and try to make as big a threat with as few words as possible, it’s almost as if the most dangerous aspect of the story is happening behind the screen. As a result, the experience is also a bit dry, reminiscent a John Carre adaptation in its determination to not be fodder for voyeurs, and as such won’t work for all who give it their time; Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, released the same year and also marked by the usage of vast sets that almost lampoon the grandeur of the American government, offered a different flavour of Cold War anxiety by processing it through laughter, and it’s possible that being a fan of one won’t endear you to the other. Ava Gardner contributes a wonderful supporting role as a key player in the drama who is in danger of being used and abused as a pawn by the good guys.