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An unpopular U.S. President manages to get a nuclear disarmament treaty through the Senate, but finds that the nation is turning against him. Jiggs Casey, a Marine Colonel, finds evidence that General Scott, the wildly popular head of the Joint Chiefs and certain Presidential Candidate in 2 years is not planning to wait. Casey goes to the president with the information and a web of intrigue begins with each side unsure of who can be trusted. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
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A fascinating movie. I have it on tape and watch it regularly. I'm not sure why. The story is a primitive one. "There is a plot to take over these United States." (Even the tag line is incorrect. Douglas says "the" United States.)
The script, by Rod Serling, is full of his trouvees. Ava Gardner says to Douglas: "I'll give you two things. A steak, rare, and the truth, which is very rare." (I'm laughing out loud as I write this.) Frederick March is always referring to his physician as "the good doctor." A cabinet member, played by George Macready, is a yachting freak so he's always interjecting ejaculations like, "Look out, Mister President! These are deep waters we're sailing in!" He tells Douglas that he, Douglas, gets credit for whatever taste of victory they have in their mouths, just after Kirk has been forced through an immoral act. "The taste in my mouth, Mr. Secretary, isn't exactly victory." But Rod isn't to blame for all of the script. Some is lifted from the novel, in which the president is referred to as "Jordy." The novel's prose is, let us say, clumsy and a little hard to swallow sometimes.
Yet I like this film a lot. The stilted dialogue is enjoyably comic. The photography has a pleasantly washed out diluted quality, particularly noticeable in the scenes in El Paso, where the featureless desert seems almost blindingly white. The performances are about as good as they get. Lancaster has made several movies with John Frankenheimer and I suppose they get along, their interests being as much alike as they are, and it shows in Burt's performance. Kirk Douglas, who made even more movies with Burt, looks snazzy in a bird colonel's summer uniform. The rest of the cast is simply fine. Edmond O'Brian is pretty old and tubby and looks the part of an alcoholic pol with backbone. His Southern accent is neatly done. His eyes sort of bulge out and look in two slightly different directions, lending his part a comedic undertone, regardless of circumstances. George Macready -- has anyone ever played an icey standoffish cold fish as well as he? Is that what going to Brown does to you? I've always admired Martin Balsam's style. He has a gift for draping ordinary lines in a kind of sonorous tinsel -- very New Yorkish, but quirkily so. The gift is on full display in this film. His exchange with John Housmann aboard the aircraft carrier is priceless. There is nothing "dramatic" about it. It's simply done very well. Housmann has a small part, but he's very effective in it. Frederick March, a reliable actor, is reliable here. The Secret Service guy is dispensable and seems dumb compared to the other characters. The politicians, except for the president and secretary, are pretty slimy, as you'd expect in a movie about a plot to take over these United States, and Hugh Marlowe, as the ranking politician conveys that sliminess. Ava Gardner I admire as a woman but have never found her much of an actress. Andrew Duggan ditto. Richard Anderson in a small part exudes his usual class. Richard Anderson is from the New Jersey shore. Everyone from the Jersey shore has class. Look at Norman Mailer. Look at Jack Nicholson. Look at Abbott and Costello.
I'm certain that anyone who knows the politicomilitary bureaucracy could poke so many holes in this story that it would look like the brain of a cow that had died of bovine spongiform disorder, but it doesn't matter. It's a left-wing fantasy, and an enjoyable one. The only truly disturbing scene is when March is making his victory speech at the end. Something about "marching out of the dark tunnels of ignorance into the bright sunshine of freedom." Absolutely nothing more than a collage of platitudes and clichés, totally content free. It's as if Rod had done some acid before writing it and kept getting lost along the way. It's like listening to "Jeepers creepers" over and over again without ever getting to "Where'd you get those peepers?" But that's okay. It's an enjoyable film. Very dramatic score, with lots of CLANGS -- ominous bells. Eleventh-hour-type bells. See it if you have a chance.
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