"We have met the enemy..." Parallel doves/hawks demonstrations (a peace sign becomes a bludgeoning weapon in the ensuing riot) set the stage for the Republicís "week of unadulterated nightmare," a choice Twilight Zone installment, Rod Serling screenplay and all. The President (Fredric March) is a peacenik with plunging ratings, the General (Burt Lancaster) sees his disarmament treaty with Russia as an act of "criminal negligence" and marshals military support for a homegrown coup díetat; wedged between White House and Pentagon is the Colonel (Kirk Douglas), who "usually steers clear of politics." "Going down the drain while waving the flag" in John Frankenheimerís Washington, D.C., less baroque than in The Manchurian Candidate but just as hazardous. Marchís diplomatic utopia (tropical landscapes tattooed on the walls of an indoors pool) and Lancasterís Cold War bellicosity (phallic missile models lined up on his desk) are the opposing poles in this vision of democracy in peril, which also takes note of the screens-within-screens of media coverage, medal-studded uniforms dangling red-meat before audiences, and "the very bad Gilbert and Sullivan" of Capitol Hill. Frankenheimer keeps an ominous tremor subtly coursing through evenly-lit, deep-focus compositions of corridors, chambers, conferences and meetings, a sharp edit hopscotches from the lunar desert of El Paso to a battleship off the coast of Gibraltar. In the human department, thereís Edmond OíBrienís choleric wrestling with a bottle of bourbon in the basement of a hush-hush Army base, Martin Balsamís New York quirkiness flashing briefly during a pokerfaced showdown with John Houseman, and, above all, the snap of Ava Gardnerís anger as a discarded mistress with incriminating letters. Pakula would build on the underground garage (All the Presidentís Men) and the kidnapping plot in the vast lake (The Parallax View), though the sequels are best studied beyond the frame, in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the Reagan Doctrine, the Persian Gulf... With Andrew Duggan, Hugh Marlowe, Whit Bissell, George Macready, Helen Kleeb, and Richard Anderson. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce