DATELINE: Not Citizen Kane
Miss Taylor, We Presume?
Richard Condon’s novel called Winter Kills, a roman a clef of the Kennedy Assassination, makes for one of the earliest of conspiracy theory movies. Winter Kills is by the man who wrote the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor.
Vincent Canby of the NY Times called it equal to Citizen Kane, but that seems a stretch. It is more akin to Oliver Stone’s JFK.
A stunning cast of cameos appear and disappear quickly. The opening credits are about as jaw-dropping as Murder on the Orient Express: Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Dorothy Malone, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, and on and on.
How could it go wrong? Well, you can start by scratching your head over the notion that movie is billed as a tragic comedy.
The Kennedy murder in 1963 may be a comedy of errors in its commission and solution, but hardly a comedy.
The film takes the off-putting hints of conspiracy and gives them fake names: Joe Diamond for Jack Ruby, etc.
Jeff Bridges is the young man (at his most attractive in 1979) who is the brother of an assassinated president who decides to solve the crime himself. In the meantime, conspirators are killing everyone around him. His attitude is bizarre, like someone has strung together unrelated scenes (blame goes to the director).
John Huston gives another irascible performance as the President’s father and Dorothy Malone is his mother.
The film predates the Internet but makes some intriguing theories that a master-programmed spy network of computers is following everyone as early as 1960. It is a stunning prediction on today’s world. That alone is gripping and clairvoyant.
All the usual suspects are present: Hollywood moguls, billionaires, crackpot businessmen, mobsters, Cubans, political hacks, the CIA, and on and on. We know the drill by now, but back in 1980, this was shocking. With more evidence now available, the theories here are standard conclusions today.
As for the movie, it is over-the-top and worth your attention. Not Citizen Kane, it is equal to Stone’s JFK.