The Best JFK Assassination Movie

Better than Oliver Stone


Back, and to the left.
Abraham Zapruder

Yesterday my colleague Nick Gillespie noted James Wolcott's far-too-affectionate look back at the Kennedy administration. I don't have much to add to Nick's post, except that I can't resist remarking on one side comment in Wolcott's article. After reeling off a long list of JFK-themed books being released for the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Wolcott pointed out that

suspicions still flourish and theories abound that there had to be bigger puppeteers operating behind the Manchurian Candidate curtains who set up these patsies as fall guys: L.B.J., the C.I.A., the K.G.B., disloyal factions within the Secret Service, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, the gargoyle shadow government later personified by the Smoking Man in The X-Files—pick a perp. Most daringly, perhaps, Mark Shaw points the bony finger of recrimination at J.F.K.'s own father in The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK.

I haven't seen the Shaw book, but Kennedy's father also turns out to be the perp in my favorite of the JFK assassination movies. And now I'm in a quandry, because I want to use the Wolcott piece as an opportunity to recommend the film, but I'm wary about giving away the ending. I mean, the picture's still fun even if you know how it ends, but I figure I should insert a SPOILER ALERT right here for people who don't want to go any farther. If you want to know just what movie I'm supposedly spoiling, read on.

It's Winter Kills, released in 1979: a wild, funny ride through virtually every conceivable villain in a Kennedy conspiracy: mobsters, intelligence agencies, anti-Castro Cubans, even Hollywood itself. The Joseph Kennedy character—all the names have been changed, but it's obvious who he's based on—is played by John Huston in a suitably over-the-top style. The film was based on a novel by Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor, and it was financed by a couple of marijuana smugglers. One of those financiers was killed by the mafia while the film was in production, for daring to tell the truth about the president's murder not paying his debts; the other was sent to prison as part of the JFK cover-up because he was a drug dealer.

It used to be impossible to find the thing, but in the Internet age you can get it on Amazon. Highly recommended, even if you know how it ends.