Movie buffs with proper respect for the past will inevitably compare John Frankenheimer’s nifty 1964 political thriller “Seven Days in May” with this remake, Jonathan Darby’s “The Enemy Within,” and return to their memories and their videos.
On its own, the new version spins a pretty good yarn with timely overtones: a threatened military takeover of the U.S. government at a time of greatly diminished Presidential popularity, thwarted by a by-the-book officer who accidentally uncovers the plot and must weigh army loyalty against patriotism.
Against a Cold-War background, however, with a more plausible enemy — not to mention a brilliant Rod Serling screenplay — Frankenheimer worked on firmer ground.
The action in “Enemy” unrolls in Washington “a few years from tomorrow,” where events, including a North Korean atomic-bomb drop and an Iran-Iraq entente , have put the White House into a virtual state of siege.
Liberal President Foster (Sam Waterston) threatens to veto an increased military-appropriations bill, which angers Chief-of-Staff General Lloyd (Jason Robards) to the point that he secretly mobilizes support for a coup.
Accidentally discovering the coded plans, Col. Casey (Forest Whitaker) alerts the White House, argues his way through red tape and, at hour 23 and minute 59 of day seven, saves the nation.
Kirk Douglas played the whistle-blower in the original, Whitaker in the remake; both give respective shows in their agonized portrayals of decent but unremarkable heroes caught in conflicting loyalties.
But while Frankenheimer built his tensions slowly and steadily, never losing the Cold War “it can happen here” immediacy of his story, “Enemy” goes dippy about midway, with the narrative thread getting lost in side issues.
At the end, when virtue and salvation have made their way to the White House on Whitaker’s mighty running legs, Waterston speaks to the nation about pride and patriotism while director Darby’s cameras prowl the Washington landscape hunting down a heart-tugging Fourth-of-July-style panorama of flags, interracial children’s games and the like.
One might have thought they’d stopped making that kind of movie anymore; alas , what they’ve really stopped making is the kind of taut, engrossing, makes-you-think thrillers that John Frankenheimer and a few others produced around 1964.