*. It sure looks like a TV movie. It wasn’t, but it was made on an extremely low budget and didn’t have a long run in the theatres. In fact, it was quickly yanked because of bad press (too soon, I guess), and wasn’t seen again until the late 1980s (and then only on TV).
*. The early ’70s were the golden age of conspiracy movies, for obvious reasons (Watergate broke in ’73, and there was no limit to what you could think the government was up to), but I think by using a real event this one hit too close to home. Showing Kennedy’s head exploding was probably a mistake. By the time Oliver Stone got around to doing JFK, attitudes had changed considerably.
*. An interesting take on events because it presents things from the conspirators’ perspective. Only, who are these guys? They aren’t FBI, CIA, Secret Service, or military, and yet they seem to have their fingers in every pie. Burt Lancaster is some kind of ex-black ops man (he could have been a general, but John Frankenheimer had already made that movie). Will Geer represents Big Oil. Robert Ryan’s tricked-out railway carriage suggests he’s a nineteenth-century robber baron with a steampunk time machine hidden away somewhere.
*. If the conspirators are a vague group, their motives are even murkier. Robert Ryan is apparently concerned that the coloureds are going to start taking over by sheer weight of numbers. How killing Kennedy is going to solve the third world population bomb isn’t clear. Will Geer, who appears in too many cutaways, disapprovingly watching Kennedy on TV, just thinks that the president is soft, a typical mushy liberal who should be gotten rid of.
*. I see the hand of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in all this. I think he just wanted to target a vast right-wing conspiracy.
*. None of this is very convincing, but then neither is JFK, where it’s almost as hard to figure out who the conspirators are (aside from “everybody”).
*. Is it cool to flush a toilet with your foot? There’s no reason for the one team leader to do it, and yet he does. Why?
*. An almost all-male cast. I mean, there are few women even in supporting or back-up roles. In the second half of the film three come on screen for a couple of lines or less: a stripper, a secretary, and a girlfriend.
*. Fun with statistics. At the end of the film a voiceover tells us that the chances of so many material witnesses to the assassination dying within such a brief period of time was calculated by an actuarial at 100,000 trillion-to-one. Later efforts have recalculated the probability down to a point where it’s virtually certain to have happened. You decide.
*. The intercutting from documentary footage to dramatic re-creations during the assassination sequence and its immediate fallout is very effective. It’s this stuff that makes this a movie that deserves to be better known. Otherwise, despite some big names in the cast I don’t think the acting is anything special (Pauline Kael describes their “matchlessly dull performances”), and the photography is pretty ugly throughout.
*. Are we meant to think that Burt Lancaster’s character has been eliminated by the cabal at the end? We do see him taking heart medicine earlier so it’s possible he’s had a heart attack. But the seeds of doubt have been planted.