Rod Serling is best known for his television series, The Twilight Zone. The show ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964 and was very popular. The title alludes to the paranormal, and the show’s iconic tag line was “That’s the signpost up ahead,” intoned by Serling, himself. He informed viewers they were now entering The Twilight Zone, in my interpretation, the region between myth and reality.
What is not widely known is that Serling was also the writer of the 1964 motion picture, Seven Days in May. The title sort of gives away my inspiration to post this topic now rather than wait until next month, June.
The movie came out in 1964, and the theme is a plot to overthrow the government of the United States.
The outstanding actor Fredric March is liberal-leaning President Jordan Lyman, who has negotiated a disarmament treaty with the evil Soviet Union. In intense opposition to the whole idea is war hero Air Force Chief of Staff James Mattoon Scott, played portrayed by Burt Lancaster in one of his finest performances ever. At this point my apologies for over gushing, but it is difficult to describe this film without using superlatives.
Kirk Douglas is Marine Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey, General Scott’s aide de camp. [Correction. On further inspection I find he is Director of the Joint Chiefs.] Colonel Casey is a patriotic officer of high military standards, and he, too, opposes the disarmament treaty. But not in the way that General Scott does.
General Scott and other members of the Joint Chiefs are planning a coup d’état, and Casey does not know about it. At first.
An officer friend of Casey’s tells of his posting to a military project named ECOMCON. Casey has high access within the Pentagon, but he has never heard of the project. Neither has the Pentagon switchboard operator, whom Casey contacts using a secure phone. Casey hangs up the phone and says, to himself, “What the hell is going on here?”
So, the plot starts to unravel, the president orders an investigation on the quiet so as not to alert the perpetrators (and the Soviets). The investigators learn they have only seven days until Sunday, the scheduled date of the coup. The secret code of the conspirators revolves around a phony betting pool on the Preakness Stakes, to be run on Sunday. If you want in on the coup, you sign up for a horse in the race.
Too bad for the conspirators, but good news for the country, all the conspirators abandon the sinking ship when the chips are down. All but General Scott, that is. Finding himself alone and facing a possible court martial, he returns home to resign from the service, a condition for his staying out of jail and keeping quiet about the whole business.
So, the month of May is the right time for this post, but why today? Because today is the day they ran the Preakness Stakes for 2012. Saturday. Yes, not Sunday.
I have been around since the time the movie came out, and I have been around a lot longer than even that. And in all that time I never heard of the Preakness being run on Sunday, and this has bothered me all this time about the movie. It’s just one of those things about me. [Additional: In the move you will see posters on display announcing the first Sunday running of the Preakness.]
Astute viewers will notice a slight liberal slant to the movie. The liberal president is cast in a favorable light and emerges victorious. General Scott is portrayed as just to the right of Hermann Goering, patently dishonest, and he also cheats on his wife. At the end of the movie his disgrace is complete, and he takes the coward’s way out, keeping the attempted coup a secret to avoid making his disgrace public. This portrayal is no surprise.
Rod Serling was your typical Hollywood liberal writer and producer. He was born to a Jewish family, served as a paratrooper in the Philippines in World War II, coming away away with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. And lucky, too. Fighting to expel the Japanese from Manila, his regiment suffered 50% casualties. I will recall those times in a future blog, in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the campaign.
Hey! See the movie. You can get it on DVD. Just follow the link to get it from Amazon. It’s in black and white, which provides extra drama, and it’s directed by John Frankenheimer, who also directed the racing classic, Grand Prix. I did a write up on that for a travel site a few years back, and I will post that later. For Seven Days in May, Be sure to notice the titles. Saul Bass (Pacific Title) did the graphics, as he did for many famous productions, including The Man with the Golden Arm and North by Northwest.
Wrapping up the day, the race has finished now, and I’ll Have Another, ridden by Mario Gutiérrez, is the winner. Since the horse also won the Kentucky Derby last month, he is in line to take the triple crown of racing for 2012 by also winning the Belmont Stakes next month. There has not been a triple crown winner in 30 years. Hopefully he will have better luck than General Scott.