Winter Kills (1979, Director’s Cut)


Nearly twenty years after the assassination of US President Kegan, a dying man admits to being the real killer. The late POTUS’s younger brother (Jeff Bridges, Starman) sets out to find the truth, uncovering a vast conspiracy.

Reaction & Thoughts:

A made-up comic retelling of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, based on Richard Condon’s 1974 satirical novel. Director and writer William Richert (The American Success Company) keeps the tongue firmly planted in cheek, making some astute observations about the American culture in the process.

Winter Kills (1979)

You may ask yourself, “a comedy about the Kennedy assassination?” Well, it’s the ’70s, baby! It actually makes perfect sense to end the golden era of paranoid thrillers — ChinatownThe Parallax View, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, Marathon Man, etc. — with something that makes fun of the sub-genre. Winter Kills is to ’70s thrillers what Airplane is to the disaster craze of the ’70s.

Condon’s novel is more serious in tone. Director Richet decided to accentuate the humor while downplaying the serious aspects of the story. Winter Kills is filled with kooky touches, toying endlessly with all sorts of demented theories about the Kennedy assassination. One of my favorite  ideas that the film pushes is that 20th Century Fox killed Kennedy to avenge Marilyn Monroe’s death (!). There is also a running gag about Americans being controlled by ominous forces (can you say “false flag”?).

Winter Kills (1979)

Winter Kills has fun ridiculing Americans’ tendency to believe crazy conspiracy theories. But, as I suggested before, it’s not all fun and games. Winter Kills makes pointed observations about the corruptible nature of money in politics and the devaluation of the press, still hot topics in today’s highly partisan political environment.

The all-star cast is fantastic. John Huston (Chinatown) is Bridges’s powerful father (aka Joe Kennedy), Eli Wallach (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) is a hit man (aka Jack Ruby), and Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind) is Bridges’s dotty mother (aka Rose Kennedy). Also starring Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly), Toshiro Mifune (The Seven Samurai), Joe Spinell (Rocky) and Sterling Hayden (The Long Goodbye). Anthony Perkins (Psycho) nearly steals the show as the mysterious Mr. Cerruti.

Winter Kills (1979)

Elizabeth Taylor (A Place in the Sun) has an uncredited 2-minute cameo as a D.C. madam. Taylor has no dialogue, but this is one of my favorite movie cameos. Her character, based on a real-life madam who allegedly supplied prostitutes to powerful men, is the key to solving the mystery and as such you needed someone really charismatic to play this small, but key part. Ironically, Taylor’s scenes were deleted before the film’s theatrical release, but they were reinserted for home video.

Winter Kills looks and sounds great. Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter) has fun creating an atmosphere of mystery and anxiety. Maurice Jarre’s (Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago) appropriately creepy music score complements the odd imagery.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Winter Kills was not a financial success. The film is still struggling to find cheerleaders. Humor being subjective, there are still plenty of people who will find jokes about the killing of a President offensive. I get it. Personally, I thought the satire was on point. I also liked how the film uses humor to bring attention to many of the ills of American society. A film for the adventurous. Color, 97 minutes, Rated R.

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