The cinema of assassination as inspired by JFK

Hollywood’s cinema of assssination, as inspired by the death of JFK, takes two different forms: conspiratorial and sociopathic. Both will be on display at a multiplex near you later this year if and when Tom Hanks’s “Parkland” and Leonardo di Caprio’s “Legacy of Secrecy” open. Hanks’s hospital drama will depict JFK as the victim of a lone sociopath while DiCaprio’s mob flick will likely finger Carlos Marcello and other organized crime bosses.

“Parkland’s” antecedents include “Nashville” and “Taxi Driver,” in which political assassinations are depicted as the work of disturbed and isolated individuals, although I somehow doubt that rookie director Peter Landesman, a former journalist prone to exaggeration, will infuse a film starring Zac Efron with the kind of dark vision that animates Robert Altman’s and Martin Scorcese’s films.

“Legacy of Secrecy” inherits the legacy of Oliver Stone’s conspiratorial epic, “JFK,” the oft-forgotten “Executive Action,” and my personal favorite, “The Parallax View,” Alan Pakula’s paranoid thriller of 1974. Arriving amidst the meltdown of the Nixon presidency in the various Watergate conspiracies, Pakula’s film is one of Hollywood’s harshest takes on JFK’s assassination, though its story does not concern Kennedy or Dallas.

Reporter Joe Frady, played by Warren Beatty, pursues the truth about the political assassination seen in the movie’s stunning first scene, only to find himself enmeshed in the hidden power centers of America. Frady’s naive idealism and the movie’s locked-in-the-tomb ending captured public disenchantment with the Warren Commission that had been building for a decade.

Pakula’s next movie was “All the President’s Men,” his Watergate drama about real-world reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s pursuit of Nixon. It had a happier ending.

(Note: While “Parkland” is in production and thus on schedule for November 2013, a release date for “Legacy of Secrecy” remains TBA, and perhaps MIA come the 50th anniversary.)




  1. John Kirsch says:

    Gerry, I disagree with your dismissive view of Hollywood and its depictions of history. Even when a film deals very indirectly with the assassination, it can have tremendous resonance. In “Godfather Part II” Michael Corleone (Pacino) talks to his henchmen about killing arch-enemy Hyman Roth. When one of Pacino’s men questions whether such a killing could be carried out, Pacino scolds him and the words he uses have always seemed to link unmistakeably to the JFK assassination: “If anything in this life is certain… if history’s taught us anything… it’s that you can kill anyone.” Then comes the scene where Roth is indeed gunned down in a scenario very similar to Ruby’s shooting of Oswald. Not a word has been said directly about JFK. But that only makes the point more powerful. We don’t believe the official story.

    • John Kirsch says:

      I think it was Picasso who said “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand.”

  2. John Kirsch says:

    I don’t want to belabor the point, Gerry, but you’ve touched on one of my favorite topics, which is the way films have been dealing indirectly, and maybe unintentionally, with the issues surrounding Dallas for years. “Chinatown,” released 11 years after Dallas, is about private eye Jack Nicholson’s attempt to unravel a hideous conspiracy involving water rights in LA. The villain, John Huston, gets away with his crimes and at the ened one of Nicholson’s associates grabs him and says, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Translation: The conspiracy is too vast for 1 man to unravel. A message that had great resonance during the period of Watergate and Cietnam and even more now. And a message that has great resonance for any 1 person trying to unravel the mysteries of Dallas.

    • John Kirsch says:

      “The Birth of a Nation” is my candidate.

    • jeff pascal says:

      I saw JFK over 10 times in the theater and the audience reaction was electric as most people had never seen the ZFilm and the audible gasps, unfortunately there was quite a backlash and a lot of very smart people doubted their initial skepticism toward the Warren Report in the media etc.& have been snookered by Posner and Bugliosi’s books. I’m not the guy to tell you Oswald was innocent,personally I/m a lot more confident what happened on the Grassy Knoll than what happened in the Book Depository for example. However, bottom line there is more chance I’ll be replacing Kevin Durant in OKC’s starting lineup tomorrow night in the NBA Playoffs than Oswald acted alone.

      • jeff pascal says:

        Thanx Gerry-well back to JFK, I think Stone did it right he could have done the Mark Lane theory, the David Lifton Theory, the Bob Blakey Theory and so forth but settled on the MIC, as the Assassination is very complex and multiple groups were involved. I think since the film it has become clearer that this is the case.

      • John Kirsch says:

        When “JFK” came out I was living in Iowa and, if I remember correctly, the film critic for The Des Moines Register (the biggest paper in the state) refused to review the film. To me, that was an example of how the news media ignores all challenges to the Official Story.

    • Nathaniel Heidenheimer says:

      Well taken broadly, your question could be have several candidates.

      Take, for example, the 1948 movie All the Kings Men. Now were there some “demagogic aspects to Huey Long? Sure, but any movie about Long that got made in the United States of 1948 was going to be EXTREMELY one sided. It was in those years that the US middle class was being completely inundated with propaganda against all populism as inherently irrational and evil.

  3. Nathaniel Heidenheimer says:

    The scene in The Parallax View with the golf cart crashing its dead freight into the empty folding chairs of the political rally-rehearsal is the best scene in cinema history. After that, it was just a matter of time until the Koch brothers funded the Democratic Leadership Council.

    • John Kirsch says:

      I dispute your assertion re: the best scene in cinema history. I think that honor goes to Marlon Brando’s death scene in “The Godfather.”

      • mitchum22 says:

        You’re both nuts. Nothing compares to Eddie Bracken (as Private Wacksiracksi) eloping with Betty Hutton in “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.”

  4. Mike Rush says:

    The film “Executive Action,” from the mid-70’s, is a thrilling piece of work. From the cold black & white opening credits full of shots of heavy industry and high finance, to the almost horror-movie style of soundtrack music, and the truly menacing performances of Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster, this picture far out does Stone’s movie. Peter Janney, in his book, “Mary’s Mosaic,” quotes a man speaking to his daughter: If anything happens to me see the film “Executive Action,” that’s how they killed Kennedy. It’s out on CD.

    • jeff pascal says:

      That was one of the most chilling things I’ve ever read on the Assassination- the interview with the daughter of Joe Shimon in Mary’s Mosaic. Extremely important in my view.

      • Joe Shimon was a special White House aide and a liaison to the CIA.

        [Peter Janney, “Mary’s Mosaic,” p. 253]

        Shimon had one child, a college-age daughter named Toni, with whom he was extremely close in spite of being divorced from her mother. During the 1963 Easter weekend, Shimon and his daughter Toni were walking near Shimon’s North Stafford Street home in Arlington, Virginia, when he revealed something to his daughter that would come back to haunt her. As they strolled together, Toni began to feel a sense of foreboding, suspecting she would soon be missing her father’s company once again. Something else was coming, however, something she couldn’t foresee.
        “You’re on the outside I’m going to hit you with something,” Shimon told his daughter. “Tell me right off the top of your head what you think.”
        “Okay,” she said, not expecting to hear what followed.
        “The vice president [Lyndon Johnson] has asked me to give him more security than the president,” said Shimon. As they continued walking, Toni’s mood began to darken. There was something ominous in her father’s voice, she remembered feeling.
        “What’s he afraid of, Dad?” she asked her father.
        “What do you think?”Her father responded, wanting to see if she understood and connected the dots. There was an awkward silence. She knew she was being tested. Toni would remember that moment and the darkness that had come over her that day.
        “Something’s coming down, Dad,” she said. “Does President Kennedy know about this?”
        “I haven’t mentioned it,” she remembered her father telling her. “What do you think?” her father asked again.
        “Something’s going to happen and Johnson knows about it,” Toni immediately responded.
        “Good girl!” said Shimon, proud of his tutelage of his only child. [49]

        [Peter Janney, “Mary’s Mosaic,” p. 253]

        • John Kirsch says:

          Did anyone notice anything peculiar about LBJ’s behavior on 11/22? I’ve read about how he, reportedly hid in a bathroom (I believe) on Air Force One and expressed fear about his safety. In a sense it’s a difficult question to answer because the circumstances were obviously so extraordinary. I was just wondering if anyone saw anything in his behavior that could be interpreted as a “tell.”

          • John Kirsch says:

            I’m not saying I do or do not believe that LBJ had prior knowledge of the assassination, or that he had any role in planning it. I will say that I have often been struck by the fact that he was right there, in the presidential party, ready to be sworn in after JFK was pronounced dead. A skeptic would say that it would be a mistake to read anything into that fact because Johnson, after all, was from Texas and it would have been odd for him not to have been with JFK in Dallas. Still.

          • Paul Turner says:

            I’d say the many reports of him ducking in the VEEP car seconds before shots rang out. What did LBJ know about the assassination, and when did he know it????

    • I fully endorse Executive Action. I think it comes very close to explaining the JFK assassination. Having said that I think the rich guys on the outside of govt used the military/intelligence “kill teams” from the inside of the govt & with LBJ’s particiation. (Meaning this was more than outside freelancers.)

  5. Eric Hollingsworth says:

    Lest we forget “The Package.” A watchable movie with a plausible explanation of the mechanics behind the JFK assassination.

    • John Kirsch says:

      “Flashpoint” (1984) also deals (indirectly) with the assassination. I remember seeing it in ’84 and feeling that it was quite good. Best of luck trying to find it anywhere.

      • Gerry Simone says:

        Flash Point? I’m not sure about that one.

        There are two other conspiratorial films:

        1. The tongue-in-cheek Winter Kills (John Huston).

        2. For the life of me, I can’t recall the name but it includes a sub-plot that involves the discovery of a jeep that crashes into a sand dune. The body and rifle are that of JFK’s assassin who was racing to cross the Mexican border at night when the crash occurred. I can’t recall the main actor.

        3. Charles Bronson did an action movie called Assassination lol. He plays a SSA I think.

        4. Ben Gazzara in the Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO was played by John Pleshette).

        • Dave says:

          Gerry, the second movie on your list, according to, is Flashpoint (1984) starring Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams. Adding another hard-to-find movie to my DVD want list …

          • Gerry Simone says:

            Okay. Okay! Thanks David! I will look for it at my end.

          • Gerry Simone says:

            As for that Flashpoint movie, near the skeletal remains of the driver-assassin, was a briefcase or bag loaded with cash.

  6. jeff pascal says:

    Interesting to note that there are several films prior to the Assassination that have some cosmological relevance-1. The Tall Target 1951-about a plot to kill Lincoln with Dick Powell as the Treasury Agent thwarting the attempt. What is Powell’s name in the film? You guessed it John Kennedy!2. Manchurian Candidate with the brainwashing techniques utilized possibly a little closer to home with LHO.3. Suddenly, so ironically with JFK’s friend Ol’ Blue Eyes playing the crazed mastermind/Presidential Assassin wannabee.4. Seven days In May By the great John Frankenheimer was filmed from the novel by Fletcher Knebel, that JFK himself wanted made as detailed in Brothers- David Talbot’s excellent book.

  7. I guess it was “too long.” Having said that “Legacy of Secrecy” and any theory that blames the JFK assassination on the mob-only is bullshit.

  8. Bobby Ray Inman – 25 years in intelligence – told me in 2009 that if we ever have a coup d’etat it will be just like the movie “Seven Days in May.”

    Inman also told me he would go to his grave believing that Fidel Castro killed JFK. I think that makes him feel comfortable.

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