Friday, November 22, 2013

Executive Action (1973): A warmup for JFK

Executive Action is a sometimes compelling but often pedestrian film examining the possibility that a cabal of powerful businessmen planned the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Based somewhat loosely on the book, Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane and Donald Freed, Executive Action looks like something of a test run for JFK, Oliver Stone’s more ambitious examination of a similar thesis that arrived 18 years later. The filmmakers were certainly courageous in tackling such explosive material, and if not for the participation of Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan, it’s doubtful the film would have made it beyond the planning stages, but the results are somewhat flat.

Lancaster and Ryan are wealthy businessmen who see Kennedy as a threat to their interests. The president has opposed a merging of the oil companies, is supportive of civil rights for minorities, and has expressed a less than hawkish attitude toward war. With younger brothers Robert and Edward waiting in the wings, they fear the possibility that a Kennedy could occupy the White House through 1983. When we don’t see Lancaster and Ryan planning and plotting, and trying to convince Will Geer to go along with their assassination scheme, we see marksmen practicing the execution.

Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay strays a bit from the source material. Citing several factual errors made in the interest of drama, Lane disowned the film, but its thesis is worthy of consideration, more so than the discredited Warren Commission Report. Produced by Edward Lewis (Spartacus) and directed by David Miller (Lonely Are the Brave), Executive Action makes an interesting supplement to the more riveting JFK.

© 2009 Brian W. Fairbanks


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