(Edward) Rod(man) Serling

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Brendan Gill

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"'Seven Days in May' is an almost perfect thriller"—such was the opinion I was about to set down when my conscience intervened; the wary cravenness of that "almost" struck me as patently unjust, for, in fact, there wasn't a single moment of this high-flown melodrama that I didn't enjoy, or a single aspect of it that I would have liked to see changed, and gratitude alone should suffice to make one generously incautious. With a sense, therefore, of having provided no handy trapdoor of qualification through which to escape, let me paint myself into the tight corner of total praise: "Seven Days in May" is a perfect specimen of its kind….

[The] plot of the picture,… like that of any good thriller, is far easier to admire than to describe, mounting in ever more dangerous spirals of intrigue to a climax that had me not only on the edge of my chair but ready to leave the country if things didn't reach a fortunate conclusion….

[I] give away no important secrets when I mention that the setting is Washington, the time a few years hence, and the crucial action a right-wing conspiracy on the part of high Pentagon brass to kidnap the President of the United States and take over the federal government. That such a conspiracy might occur and then come within a hairbreadth of success is apt to appear, at first glance, preposterous, and it is the art of thrillers to make sure that, at second glance, we see not the hokum within but a surface of unimpeachable plausibility. Here, for example, in the model opening scene of "Seven Days in May," is the veritable White House, serenely familiar above its sweep of lawn, and here are two opposing lines of pickets, marching back and forth in front of the high White House fence as we have often watched them do in newsreels. Suddenly, the pickets are rioting, and the camera itself is caught up in the melee, rocking madly this way and that, while police sirens are heard screaming up Constitution Avenue; we cut to the President's office, where the President is being given a medical checkup, and from that moment on we are helpless not to believe what [director John] Frankenheimer and his ingenious colleagues wish us to believe. I walked out of the theatre more than half convinced that the President of the United States is a troubled, virtuous man named Jordan Lyman…. (p. 112)

Brendan Gill, "A+," in The New Yorker, Vol. XL, No. 1, February 22, 1964, pp. 112, 114, 116.∗

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