“Winter Kills”: Cinema Rewind

Posted: May 13th, 2020 | Filed under: Cinema | No Comments »

This is another in a series, in which I review films from the past, recently rewatched. 

I was frankly suspicious of “Winter Kills” from the get go.

Come on, a dark comedy, fictionalizing the conspiracy angles of the Kennedy assassination, which happened a decade and a half before this movie’s release in the late 70s.

An interesting premise on first blush. But . . .

Lots of prerelease buzz. Seemingly too much.

Then again, it was based on a book by Richard Condon, who had written the best conspiracy scenario ever put on celluloid, “The Manchurian Candidate.”

That the endeavor had money problems during its filming, and rumors of the mob’s involvement in underwriting the cost, added to the sordid allure. And skepticism.

Always engaging everyguy Jeff Bridges as the younger brother of the slain president. John Huston as the family patriarch.

Bridges’ character hears a dying man’s claim that he was the second shooter of his brother, the deceased president. So, Huston sends Bridges out to track down who was behind the assassination plot. Turns out to be a wild goose chase, on psychedelics.

Lots of interactions with wacky ne’er do wells. Lots of deaths, foreshadowed by a woman and child, riding by on a bicycle. (How so very ’70s.)

There’s a whole passel of big names in small, supporting, cameo roles, including stalwarts like Richard Boone, and Elizabeth Taylor (uncredited).

It just seemed like, I don’t know, too much to ask of a movie, when the Kennedy assassination was still reasonably fresh.

And it was, too much to ask that is.

In 1979.

And, even more the other night, when I started rewatching it, but, weary, turning it off before completion. And the next morning, when, with time on my hands, I decided to go ahead and view the last half hour.

It’s moderately engaging, but simply tries too hard. In both its attempts to foment wild theories about the Kegan (movie)/ Kennedy (real) murder, and the off the charts characterizations, meant to both shock and induce laughter.

Two especially really grated.

John Huston in the Joe Kennedy role must have thought his clever and searing portrayal of Noah Cross in “Chinatown,” five years earlier, could be improved upon with more scenery chewing. For me, he was exhausting here.

The other was Sterling Hayden, as a right wing nut, who plays war games with real tanks on his spread of land. Think Dr. Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper x 10 on steroids.

Which is to say, there was overkill. Haven’t we seen these characters before?

Much more was much less.

Plus there’s Anthony Perkins, shifty eyes and halting nervous tics fully intact, as a mysterioso force of some sort behind the scenes, working for dad. Of course, you immediately wonder is he the real villain?

It’s Anthony Perkins, right? How many good guys did he get to play after his roles as Jimmy Piersall and Norman Bates?

Bridges, who is obviously in the crosshairs of somebody bad, does his best to hold this film together.

It works for awhile — a little while anyway — aided by the ever excellent cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond.

But, in the end, which for me, was the next morning, when the real culprit is revealed, sort of, it was an “Oh yeah, so what” yawn.

— c d kaplan

 

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