A Movie A Day: Quint on EXECUTIVE ACTION (1973) Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings
Published at: Nov. 5, 2008, 3:55 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
First thing’s first… It was an amazing night in the history of my country. I won’t celebrate here, no rubbing it in to those who don’t share my views and no preaching to the choir, but it was an amazing night.
And an incredibly troubling night to watch this film. I said it yesterday that the Movie Gods must have a twisted sense of humor to let EXECUTIVE ACTION fall on election day.
Essentially what we have with this film is a What If? movie centered around the Kennedy Assassination. The film opens with text and voice-over telling us of an interview LBJ did before he died in which he said certain things that were removed by the powers that before before it aired… but it has now been admitted that it was LBJ asserting that JFK’s assassination was a conspiracy, and not the sole work of Lee Harvey Oswald.
The scroll then goes on to make sure we know that the movie we’re about to see is a work of fiction, acting merely as a possible scenario based on the evidence of the assassination and who had motive and stood to benefit from Kennedy’s death.
Basically a collection of great ’40s and ‘50s greats gather together, led by the awesome Robert Ryan, trying to convince a big oil man, Ferguson, played by Will Greer of WINCHESTER ’73 fame, to join them in plotting Kennedy’s death.
They play on greed, racism and fear of a Kennedy dynasty, outlining their plan for a re-election for JFK, then 8 years of Bobby Kennedy, then another 8 for Teddy Kennedy. They predict Kennedy’s siding with the blacks for equal rights and Kennedy’s desire to start pulling out of Vietnam as well as his nuclear disarmament proposition.
At the end of the day, the ideals are meaningless. It’s all about power staying with power and they don’t like that they have no sway over his presidency.
So, if I’m finding it a little freaky right now, and a bit scary, looking at the possible parallels here, please forgive me. A radically progressive candidate who has cut any ties (and money which equals influence) to big corporations and big oil, trying to pull out of a war that is very profitable for many very rich men, despite being incredibly unpopular with the people of the US… not to mention the personal comparisons you can make in terms of charm and ability to inspire crowds.
Yeah, it’s eerie. Let’s just hope that secret security has been vastly improved since then, especially if the script isn’t exaggerating when the conspirators discuss the assassination… they really make it seem like the Secret Service were useless then, only a dozen or so detail, no sweeping buildings along the parade route, no real research on likely threats before travel, etc.
What’s interesting to me is just intricate the film goes into conspiracy theory detail without ever pulling the “inside job” card. The information agencies don’t know about it, but they unwittingly support it via a myriad of shadowy sources and connections that all, invariably, have ties to this small group of old, rich white dudes who are scared to death of minorities growing and of the US not being top bull anymore in terms of perceived military strength.
If the film has a failing, it is in an area I find hard to criticize. The multiple threads to the vast conspiracy are very convoluted and at times I felt like I had to play a little catch-up with the movie, which was moving so fast through pages of dialogue informing us of the plot that I sometimes lost the thread, especially where Oswald was concerned.
We get a very detailed look at Oswald’s history, his ties and loyalties to communist Russia, but also a weird ambiguous support from within our own government, but at the end of the day he’s just the patsy. The movie supposes he was telling the complete truth when he was caught and that all of the circumstantial evidence against him was carefully planned. He was set-up without ever knowing it or meeting the men pulling the strings of his destiny.
What’s really disturbing and fascinating is how director David Miller (director of yesterday’s FLYING TIGERS) intercuts the fiction storyline with real life footage of Kennedy making speeches in the weeks leading up to that fateful day in Dallas. What’s especially disturbing is the access to the footage of the events leading up to the assassination that I had never seen before, like Kennedy getting off Air Force One, getting into the convertible and shaking hands on the tarmac as they get ready to drive off, towards his death.
Will Greer and Robert Ryan are especially good as two of the conspirators, but a special nod has to be given to Burt Lancaster, who plays the most active member of the group, really keeping the wheels of the conspiracy greased and turning.
You’ll also see some very familiar faces, including one of my favorites Dick Miller as one of the riflemen. The conspirators have two teams of three training, completely unaware of the other team, training at moving targets with a crappy Italian sniper rifle, which was apparently dubbed “The rifle that never hurt anyone on purpose” by the Italians before it stopped being produced.
Controlling both of these teams is another familiar face, Ed Lauter, whose famous chrome dome can be seen in everything from THE ROCKETEER to BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY to REAL GENIUS to MAGIC to Hitchcock’s FAMILY PLOT to the ’76 KING KONG remake. He’s not a particularly likable character in this movie, but he’s not a cartoon villain, either. He’s a mercenary, seeing his retirement offered and he doesn’t give a damn who ends up in the crosshairs.
So, you have a fascinating script by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, a heavily cynical early ‘70s filmmaking vibe and some mediocre cinematography (but mediocre ‘70s cinematography is still better than just “good” cinematography today) and very thought-provoking theory on the events behind the assassination, which I’m absolutely convinced we still don’t know the full story behind. It all just doesn’t add up, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to suggest a conspiracy to it all… but there is for sure shit we don’t know and will probably never know about it.
Final Thoughts: EXECUTIVE ACTION isn’t the best movie in the world, but I’d rank it a solid 7/10… however keep in mind one of my favorite comic books growing up was Marvel’s What If? I love these kinds of stories and if they even get a little bit of it right, I hope to God that we’ve either evolved as a people or at least won’t be forced to live through a recreation of the horrid events from 1963.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Wednesday, November 5th: THE BUSY BODY (1967)
Thursday, November 6th: IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)
Friday, November 7th: LIBELED LADY (1936)
Saturday, November 8th: UP THE RIVER (1930)
Sunday, November 9th: DOCTOR BULL (1933)
Monday, November 10th: JUDGE PRIEST (1930)
Tuesday, November 11th: TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Thank the Movie Gods, we move on to a comedy next, following Robert Ryan back a few years to a movie that has nothing (I hope) to do with knocking off political figures! See you folks tomorrow for THE BUSY BODY!