Showing posts with label Ava Gardner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ava Gardner. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Seven Days in May (1964)

"It was a time of tremendous tension and tremendous fear." - John Frankenheimer

Cold War stories are endlessly fascinating. There is something about the fear of nuclear annihilation and how it alters our perspectives on the future and guides our actions that became the perfect fodder for storytelling. It inspired authors Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II to write their political thriller Seven Days in May. Published in 1962, the book became a bestseller. Shortly after publication, Kirk Douglas’ Joel Productions and director John Frankenheimer's Seven Arts Production purchased the movie rights in a joint deal. The book was highly criticized by the Pentagon but it had one notable fan: President John F. Kennedy. According to Kirk Douglas’ memoir Kirk and Anne, JFK met Douglas at an event hosted by LBJ and encouraged him to make the film. JFK also gave Frankenheimer his approval to film outside of the White House.

In the not so distant future, U.S. President Lyman (Fredric March)  has signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, a move intended to prevent nuclear war, and is dealing with the aftermath of his decision. His approval rating has dropped to 29% and he’s garnered much criticism within the current administration. His biggest critic is General Scott (Burt Lancaster), one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A highly decorated military veteran, Gen. Scott has stirred up the opposition with his patriotic banter and his extreme right-wing politics. His aide Colonel ‘Jiggs’ Casey (Kirk Douglas) doubts his boss’ intentions and discovers a big secret. In seven days, Gen. Scott and the other Joint Chiefs of Staff will stage a military coup to seize the government and overthrow the President. Two of the president’s closest confidantes, his aide Paul Girard (Martin Balsam) and Senator Clark (Edmond O’Brien) are sent to investigate. Jiggs gets some help from Eleanor Holbrook (Ava Gardner), Scott’s ex-lover. She has in her possession letters that will incriminate Scott. Will Jiggs and the President’s team be able to uncover the plot and stop it before the seven days are up?

"The enemy's an age. A nuclear age. It happened to kill man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, a sickness of frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness. And from this desperation, we look for a champion in red, white and blue. Every now and then, a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration." - President Lyman, played by Fredric March

Seven Days in May (1964) is one of the finest political thrillers ever made. Frankenheimer’s film is beautifully shot and directed. Frederic March, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, among others, deliver stellar performances. I’ve watched this film several times but this recent viewing made me appreciate the pivotal March-Lancaster showdown even more than I had before. Every single second of that scene is powerful. If you’re not already a Fredric March fan, that one scene will make you a convert. Lancaster’s Gen. Scott is so calm that it’s incredibly gratifying seeing March’s President Lyman break him down. The film benefits from Rod Serling's terrific screenplay, a high caliber cast of players, amazing sets, a title sequence by Saul Bass, etc. It’s perfectly paced, brilliantly told and it reflects the real tension felt in America at the time. There is so much attention to detail but also a focus on the story at hand. There is no excess. Everything feels just right. In terms of Cold War movies, I’ll take Seven Days in May (1964) and Fail-Safe (1964) (review) over the more popular Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) any day.

Seven Days in May (1964) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection and can be purchased at the WB Shop. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thank you!

The film has been remastered and is presented in 1080p HD. The Blu-Ray edition is crisp, clear and simply stunning. It includes a great commentary track by director John Frankenheimer who generously offered much information about the making of the film. I learned a whole lot from hearing him discuss various topics including:

  • his experience working with the different actors 
  • his collaboration with JFK
  • his background working for the Pentagon and how that influenced the set design 
  • why he preferred shooting in black-and-white 
  • descriptions of the different shots and angles 
  • how they used European cars so audiences wouldn’t recognize the vehicles and date the film

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copy of Seven Days on May on Blu-Ray (hey that rhymes)!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations
by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner
Simon and Schuster
Hardcover, 304 pages
July 2013
ISBN 9781451627695

Barnes and Noble


In 1986, actress Ava Gardner suffered a stroke. Two years later she found herself in some financial difficulty and decided to write a memoir so she wouldn't have to "sell the jewels". Biographer Peter Evans was hired to help Gardner write the book after being personally recommended by Gardner's friends including fellow actor Dirk Bogarde. Evans knew that this project would be difficult but couldn't imagine what was in store for him. After months of late night phone calls, bizarre meetings and endless massaging of a fading beauty's ego, the book was called off. A more sanitized autobiography was published much later with the help of someone else. But Peter Evans never let go of the idea of publishing a book about Ava Gardner in her voice and with the permission of her estate put together Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations.

Me reading this book is me keeping a very open mind. As some of you know, I do not like Ava Gardner. But many people do like her and are fooled dazzled by her manipulation charm. I set my differences aside because I thought this book sounded really interesting and I wanted to learn more about her.

The end result was that I quite enjoyed my experience reading this book and learning more about Ava Gardner as an actress and as a woman. This book defies any categorization. It's a sort of biography (Peter Evans' voice), autobiography (Ava Gardner's voice), transcript of conversations and a biography about a biography that never happened. The book is also a tribute to Peter Evans who passed away before he could finish it. Both voices are gone but we have this treasure to remember them by.

Because the initial project was cut short, we don't really have the full story of Ava Gardner's life but we do get quite a bit. Most of Gardner's conversations with Evans are about the romantic relationships she's had. We learn a lot about her first marriage to Mickey Rooney and to some extent her marriages to Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra. All those marriages ended badly. She also had a long romance with Howard Hughes, but refused to marry him, affairs with Robert Mitchum and a bull fighter in Spain and was in an abusive relationship with actor George C. Scott. In her conversations with Evans, Gardner is very restrained but with Evans patience and a couple of drinks, she does open up to reveal some very personal information. She would often times panic later about what she had revealed and plead Evans not to include it. Evans was essentially in the middle of a tug-of-war. He had a publisher to answer to but he also needed to keep Gardner happy and on board with continuing the book. Evans struggle was a significant one and you get really get a sense of his dilemma.

Ava Gardner can come off very vain in this book. She was highly focused on her appearance and how people perceive her. But in many ways this is understandable. Here is an aging beauty who once had
an incredible power over men, driving many of them wild with desire, and doesn't want to let that power go. Who would?

My favorite part of the book was when Peter Evans recalls the time when he arranged a meeting with Ava Gardner and the publishers. The event was to take place at Gardner's home and she was very worried about her appearance. She was much older now and her stroke had left part of her face paralyzed. Gardner told Evans she would only do the meeting if cinematographer Jack Cardiff arranged the lighting so she could look her best. Cardiff came over, staged the lighting around the chair she would sit in and made everything work for her. Evans talked to Cardiff and this is what he said:
When she sits in that chair tomorrow, keep telling her how beautiful she looks. Keep on saying that. How beautiful she looks. Lay it on thick. She won't believe you, she's too smart to fall for blarney, but it's what she wants to hear. It's the tribute you must always pay to great beauties when they grow old. Remember, it's always the camera man who grows old, never the star. - Jack Cardiff (page 83)

This book is amazing and I highly suggest you read it. Did it change my opinion of Ava Gardner? No. But it did give me some insight into this iconic actress and made me understand her allure. I loved reading about her relationships with her mom and her sister Bappy. Evans included parts of the draft that he was working on before he had to cancel the project. Those were really interesting to read. I loved the story of how Mickey Rooney traveled with Gardner to see her mom and made a big fuss over her and made her mom so happy. I really enjoyed how Gardner was open about her mistakes and frank about her career. While she was concerned about what would go into her book, I felt that at heart she was a very honest and open person.

If there is an actress or actor you don't like, I suggest taking some time out to read a bit more about them. It might not change your opinion but it will definitely open your eyes.

This is my fifth review for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. Just one more to go!

2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge  

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