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.)



21 thoughts on “The cinema of assassination as inspired by JFK”

  1. Although not about JFK, one of the greatest assassination movies was ‘The Day of the Jackal.’ Directed by Fred Zinneman in 1973, it tells of the true story of an attempt on the life of French President Charles De Gaulle. The would be assassin uses a rifle and although he sets up the operation himself, he is working for a larger organisation, the OAS who are paying him to kill the President. In other words, a conspiracy.
    De Gualle had the best security people in the world. He knew about attempts to kill both him and also other foreign leaders. He called the Warren Report ‘Cowboys and Indians.’

  2. I’ve done extensive reading on the murder of JFK. I have a question if it can be answered. The film Legacy of Secrecy was due for release in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the JFK murder. Has it ever been released or does the cover up continue to this very day? I have no recollection of the film being released and after an internet search I have failed to determine if it ever was.

  3. Eric Hollingsworth

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

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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]

  5. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

    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.

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