Coup d’état: Seven Days In May
This 1964 drama was based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. The screenplay was written by Rod Serling.
Burt Lancaster plays General James Mattoon Scott, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kirk Douglas plays Marine Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey. Nothing needs to be said about the performances of these two actors because they always turn in excellent acting jobs. Fredric March is President Jordan Lyman and I can’t think of anyone who would play him better. Ava Gardner has the role of Elinor Holbrook, the ex-girlfriend of General Scott. Edmond O’Brien is the bourbon drinking Senator Raymond Clark from Georgia and Andrew Duggan is Colonel Henderson. John Houseman has a small role as Vice-Admiral Barnswell.
The story takes place when the cold war is in full bloom and the president and congress have entered into a treaty with the Soviet Union in which each country has agreed to destroy its nuclear arsenal. The treaty is highly unpopular with the citizens of the United States and with the military. There is a strong belief that the Soviets will not honor the treaty and will eventually attack the defenseless United States. General Scott and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hatch a plot to overthrow the constitutionally elected government of the United States. This plot is discovered by Colonel Casey and he reports it to the president. The rest of the movie shows the attempts of the president and a small group of his advisors trying to stop the coup.
Edmond O’Brien was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar but Peter Ustinov won for Topkapi. The movie was remade for cable in 1994 and was called The Enemy Within.
Some critics have suggested that the movie is dated and the plot driven by the hysteria of the times. The word “hysteria” suggests an uncontrollable and maybe even irrational fear of nuclear war. There was nothing irrational about the fear to anyone who lived through those times when backyard bomb shelters were being sold on street corners and school children were taught to “duck and cover”. In fact, the fear was much more real and immediate than the things people are afraid of today. Today’s fears are promulgated by many different groups whose very existence depends on donations from the public. Take, for example, global warming. Earth has been a relatively warm, ice-free planet for 95% of its existence. There were no glaciers or polar ice caps. The present warm up is probably just a mild, natural occurring fluctuation not unlike the previous small warming trend which began about 1870 and ended about 1940. Many of the same end-of-the-worlders who are worried about global warming were predicting a new and severe ice age back in the 1970’s. Also, the hole in the ozone layer is probably another naturally occurring phenomenon caused by changes in solar activity and not by us spraying cans of hair spray into the air. The fears today are much more “hysterical” than they were back in the early 1960’s when this movie was made.
There have been reports that I can’t confirm that President Kennedy wanted this movie made so badly that he allowed filming in the White House. These same reports claim that he feared a military overthrow of the United States Government. I don’t know if this is true or merely hype or urban legend. In any case, he didn’t live to see the movie completed.
The novel and film tell the story of fictitious U.S. President Jordan Lyman ( Fredric March). As the story begins, Lyman faces a wave of public dissatisfaction with his decision to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union, an agreement that will supposedly result in both nations simultaneously destroying their nuclear weapons under mutual international inspection. This is extremely unpopular with both the President’s opposition and the military, who believe the Soviets cannot be trusted.
As the debate over the treaty rages on, an alert and well-positioned Pentagon insider, United States Marine Corps Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas ) becomes aware of a conspiracy among the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) led by his own superior officer, the charismatic head of the JCS, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott ( Burt Lancaster). As he digs deeper, he uncovers the conspiracy’s shocking goal: Scott and his cohorts, along with allies in the United States Congress and the news media, are plotting to stage a coup d’etat to remove President Lyman and his cabinet seven days hence.
The plot itself, called ECOMCON (for “Emergency Communications Control”), entails the seizure of the nation’s telephone, radio and television network infrastructure by a secret United States Army combat unit created and controlled by Scott’s conspiracy and based near Fort Bliss, Texas. Once this is done, General Scott and his conspirators will control the nation’s communications assets; then, from their headquarters within a vast underground nuclear shelter called “Mount Thunder” (based on the actual Alternate Seat of Government maintained by the U.S. at Mount Weather in Berryville, Virginia), they will use the power of the media and the military to prevent the implementation of the treaty.
Although personally opposed to President Lyman and to the treaty, Casey is appalled by the unconstitutional cabal and alerts Lyman and his inner circle. As the countdown begins, both sides maneuver behind the scenes: Lyman sends Casey to New York to ferret out secrets that can be used against Scott, forcing Casey to cruelly deceive the general’s former mistress, the vulnerable Ellie Holbrook (Ava Gardner). Meanwhile, the plotters take action against Lyman’s closest advisors, the aging, alcoholic Georgia Senator Raymond Clark ( Edmond O’Brien) and earnest White House aide Paul Girard (Martin Balsam ), as they race against time to derail ECOMCON.
As events reach their climax, Lyman confronts Scott in the Oval Office; Clark and Girard each find that their pursuit of the truth has led them into deadly danger; and Casey must decide between his newborn love for Ellie Holbrook and his oath to protect and preserve the United States Constitution.
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“Coup” redirects here. For other uses, see Coup (disambiguation).
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Near cousins of the coup
* 3 Types of coups
* 4 Post-military-coup governments
* 5 Currently-serving leaders who came to power via coups
* 6 See also
* 7 External links
* 8 References
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A coup d’état (pronounced /ku de’ta/), or simply coup, is the sudden overthrow of a government, often through illegal means by a part of the state establishment — mostly replacing just the high-level figures. It is also an example of political engineering. It can be (although not necessarily) violent, but it is different from a revolution, which is staged by a larger group and radically changes the political system through unconstitutional means.
The term is French for “a (sudden) blow (or strike) to a state” (literally, coup, hit, and État, state, always written with a capital É in this meaning). The term coup can also be used in a casual sense to mean a gain in advantage of one nation or entity over another; e.g. an intelligence coup . By analogy, the term is also applied to corporations, etc; e.g. a boardroom coup.
Since the unsuccessful coup attempts of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920, and of Adolf Hitler in 1923, the Swiss German word “Putsch” (pronounced /pʊtʃ/) (originally coined with the Züriputsch of 1839) is often used also, even in French (such as the putsch of November 8, 1942 and the putsch of April 21, 1961, both in Algiers) and Russian ( August Putsch in 1991), while the direct German translation is Staatsstreich.
Tactically, a coup usually involves control of some active portion of the military while neutralizing the remainder of a country’s armed services. This active group captures or expels leaders, seizes physical control of important government offices, means of communication, and the physical infrastructure , such as streets and power plants. The coup succeeds if its opponents fail to dislodge the plotters, allowing them to consolidate their position, obtain the surrender or acquiescence of the populace and surviving armed forces, and claim legitimacy. Coups typically use the power of the existing government for its own takeover. As Edward Luttwak remarks in his Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook: “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” In this sense, use of military or other organized force is not the defining feature of a coup d’État.
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