Tag Archives: Ava Gardner

Seven Days in May (1964, John Frankenheimer)

Screenwriter Rod Serling really likes to employ monologues in Seven Days in May. John Frankenheimer likes to direct them too. And the actors like to give them. Because they’re good monologues. The monologues give all then actors fantastic material. Everyone except George Macready, who isn’t the right kind of scenery chewer for Seven Days. Maybe Ava Gardner, who gets the thankless role of being the only female character of note in the film; doubly thankless, given her part is of a fallen woman and her monologue is the weakest in the film, writing-wise. She’s at least good and effective, just shoe-horned in. Macready has a choice part and oozes too much through it.

There are a lot of actors in Seven Days, there are a lot of monologues. The only one not to get any monologues (well, within reason, given the size of the part) Kirk Douglas. For the first half of the film, he’s sort of bouncing between monologues as he has a conspiracy thriller discovery arc as well as a “why the heck are there so many facists in the Armed Forces” arc. Douglas works for Burt Lancaster, who’s the top dog general at the Pentagon. Lancaster gets some great monologues. Fredric March is the President of the United States, who’s just signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. Lancaster thinks March is a weak sister. Douglas thinks the military should stay out of politics and, somewhat naively, believes it does. But he also doesn’t think fascists are okay, so when it seems like there’s something suspicious going on with an upcoming nuclear threat drill–Douglas goes to the White House and tells March there’s a conspiracy for a military coup of the United States.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it’s a success. Seven Days is great entertainment. It just ought to be a lot better.

When the film starts, it’s Frankenheimer showing off. There’s a fight scene. Protestors for and against nuclear peace. Shocker, all the people against are white males. They throw the first punch. Riot in front of the White House. Frankenheimer shoots it stark, documentary style. There’s some issues with the scale of it, but it’s still an effective sequence. It’s also the only time Frankenheimer does anything approaching vérité. So while it’s distinctive, it’s a rouse. Seven Days isn’t going to be vérité. Though there are occasional later hints, which never pan out.

But then it almost immediately becomes Douglas’s movie. For the first half of the picture, until he tries to seduce Gardner for information to take down Lancaster, Douglas is the protagonist. The movie’s about the conspiracy, sure, but it’s about how he’s reacting to his role working against his commanding officer. After the Gardner seduction, the movie reduces Douglas to a supporting role. It’s got no real lead, just March, Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien, and sort of Martin Balsam. Balsam’s the only other person in the main cast not to get a monologue. He and Douglas are doers. Everyone else is a talker, especially O’Brien, who’s a drunken Southern senator who chows down on every line, sweating profusely and spectacularly. It’s a thin role at times–O’Brien gets to talk the movie version of politics, which hurts everyone who has to expound on it eventually; not even Lancaster and March can make the third act work.

See, Seven Days is able to get away with its American exceptionalism but not warmongers movie politics because Serling and Frankenheimer never double down on them. The thriller aspect is bigger. There’s even a military sand-crawler chase sequence. For a while in the second act, right after the film drops Douglas down, it seems like it might get action-packed. Then it doesn’t. It goes through a series of false endings and hinges the whole thing on the movie politics and how well Serling can write monologues about them.

And he chokes a little. There are too many monologues in the third act and they’re all too long. Lancaster gets away with one too long monologue. Poor March gets two.

Acting-wise, almost everyone’s fantastic. Not Macready. Andrew Duggan’s got a great small part. Lancaster’s great, March is great, Douglas is great. The problem is Serling’s switch from specific protagonist–Douglas–to a general one witnessing the events, which ends up being March most often. Serling fumbles that switch in perspective, but he and Frankenheimer keep the narrative distance about the same. So it’s not successful, but far from a failure.

Gardner’s good. The part’s crap. Even in the context of the story, the part’s crap–she’s Lancaster’s former now drunk mistress, who Douglas exploits for information. She’s got like three scenes, interacting with no one but Douglas. Again, shoe-horned in. Still, she makes the part work. It’s just she and Douglas really get boned by the script in the second half.

O’Brien’s kind of amazing. He’s a little broad, but he and Balsam as globe-trotting spies is one of Seven Days’s nicer second act touches. Balsam’s good too, he’s just got a far less showy part.

The film’s got great production values–big scale from Frankenheimer–amazing editing from Ferris Webster, good photography from Ellsworth Fredericks, solid Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s great entertainment.

It’s just a little thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Cary Odell; produced by Edward Lewis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey), Fredric March (President Jordan Lyman), Burt Lancaster (Gen. James Mattoon Scott), Edmond O’Brien (Sen. Raymond Clark), Ava Gardner (Eleanor Holbrook), Martin Balsam (Paul Girard), Whit Bissell (Sen. Frederick Prentice), George Macready (Christopher Todd), Hugh Marlowe (Harold McPherson), Richard Anderson (Col. Murdock), Bart Burns (Secret Service White House Chief Art Corwin), and Andrew Duggan (Col. William ‘Mutt’ Henderson).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE AVA GARDNER BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


RELATED

Advertisements

Mogambo (1953, John Ford)

John Ford not only goes to Africa, he also goes contemporary. Ford rarely directed anything but period pieces–as Westerns do fit under that umbrella–and it’s interesting to see how he handles it. I have to wonder if Mogambo was MGM’s response to The African Queen’s success. While the film does contain some of Ford’s best character work–small moments, like the discovery of the love triangle–it’s not a on-location African adventure. It’s a Hollywood film using African locations instead of backdrops. The result is disorientating, but also interesting. The colors are sumptuous, the general green of the African foliage and the cloud-filled blue skies; it’s completely different looking than any other Ford film. In fact, it looks a lot like The African Queen. I’m sure Mogambo is lifted that style, but it doesn’t make the film any less beautiful.

I’ve seen Red Dust, the source for the film, adapted by the same writer (John Lee Mahin) and also starring Clark Gable, but I don’t remember much about it. For example, I don’t remember if Gable’s the protagonist in Red Dust. In Mogambo, he and Grace Kelly’s love affair (Kelly is married to Gable’s client) is a subject the film documents, never personifies. The film only looks at them, never puts itself in Gable’s–or Kelly’s–position. Instead, the film is really Ava Gardner’s show. I’ve seen Gardner in a few films, but she’s fantastic in Mogambo, though the character is well-handled through the whole film. She gets to play with baby elephants, gets to feed baby rhinos… Grace Kelly runs and screams at the sign of any wildlife, no matter how cute. Obviously, the audience is supposed to side with Gardner–the film even gives her an unnecessary sob story to further curry favor.

Gable’s fine throughout, though he looks out of place at the end, when the film has to wrap up tidily. The film also looks out of place, since it mixes naturally-lighted footage of gorillas with the actors on a set. It doesn’t work at all; there’s no energy in the gorilla shots and so Ford gives no energy to the cut-away shots of the actors. Worse, even when there aren’t gorillas around, studio shots mix in with location footage, removing the Hollywood realism aura–awkward as it was–the film created for ninety-five minutes. The film worked its best in the first half, before the location-filled safari, where Ford had something different to do–not just get a film shot–and Gardner wasn’t just popping up in a different outfit each scene (she does have a lot of bags, but it seems unlikely she’d wear a sweater during the day in equatorial Africa). Grace Kelly is good in the beginning too, holding her own against Gable in one scene, then flattens for the rest.

All Mogambo needed was some more thought put into it, which makes its faults incredibly frustrating. Still, it’s worth seeing just for Ford’s work in the first half and Gardner’s throughout, even when she is wearing those ludicrous outfits. Warner’s DVD is excellent, but the print is so clean, it just makes the quality differences in film stock at end (again with the gorillas) more visible.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by John Lee Mahin, based on the play by Wilson Collison; directors of photography, Robert Surtees and Freddie Young; edited by Frank Clarke; produced by Sam Zimbalist; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Clark Gable (Victor Marswell), Ava Gardner (Honey Bear Kelly), Grace Kelly (Linda Nordley), Donald Sinden (Donald Nordley), Philip Stainton (John Brown-Pryce), Eric Pohlmann (Leon Boltchak), Laurence Naismith (Skipper) and Denis O’Dea (Father Josef).


RELATED

The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)

When it comes to film noir, more than any other genre, I always wonder how some of these films got their sterling reputations….

The Killers isn’t too bad. It never gets as good as the opening, the adaptation of Hemingway’s actual story (it was a Nick Adams story in fact). The rest, with insurance investigator Edmond O’Brien explaining the killing, well… O’Brien is really good and so’s Sam Levene. It’s nice to see Levene in a full role, even if it is a sidekick role, it’s a central sidekick role. There’s a nice relationship between O’Brien and Levene and it makes the film seem a lot more innovative than it really is. Well, maybe innovative isn’t the right word. Special might be. Their relationship makes the film seem special. And the film isn’t special.

The failing is the concentration on one deception that has nothing to do with why Burt Lancaster accepts death in the beginning of the film. Oh, did I spoil it? I shouldn’t have, it’s kind of famous. There’s no pay-off with Lancaster. He’s around, but his character doesn’t do much. It’s impossible to feel anything for him, because we don’t get to see this man’s real struggle. The real struggle isn’t in the film, it’s in a five-year stretch the film ignores.

To some extent, I’m being harder on The Killers than it deserves. If I’d paid any attention to Movielens, I would have seen it didn’t predict a super-rating for the film, but The Killers is one of those films from my period of blind film snobbery. When it aired on TV, I knew someone recording it for three or four people. It was a big deal. Incidentally, Criterion’s release isn’t very good. I know it’s an older release, but film restoration–just the garden variety digital kinds–really makes it look terrible in comparison to current releases. I wanted The Killers to be good. Instead, it was a really, really long a hundred minutes. Really long. LONG.

But the Hemingway stuff… Great stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Anthony Veiller, based on a story by Ernest Hemingway; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Mark Hellinger; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Swede Andersen), Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins), Edmond O’Brien (Jim Reardon), Albert Dekker (Big Jim Colfax), Sam Levene (Lt. Sam Lubinsky), Vince Barnett (Charleston), Virginia Christine (Lilly Harmon Lubinsky), Charles D. Brown (Packy Robinson), Jack Lambert (Dum-Dum Clarke), Donald MacBride (R.S. Kenyon), Charles McGraw (Al), William Conrad (Max), Phil Brown (Nick Adams), Queenie Smith (Mary Ellen Daugherty), Jeff Corey (Blinky Franklin), Harry Hayden (George) and Bill Walker (Sam).