Title: The Men Who Killed Kennedy
Release Date: 2000
Nationality and Language:
Running time: about 280 Minutes
Distributor and Production Company: Turner Films and The History Channel
Cast: Narrated by Roger Mudd (and Bill Curtis/US and Hilary Minster/UK, see below)
Technical: TV film (video)
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Review: Video/Cable Film Review: The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1999)
Turner Films; Shown on the History Channel in five segments, August 2000; about 280 minutes
Narrated by Roger Mudd
I remember what I was doing when I learned of
the assassination, at 20 years old. I was sitting in an oil
viscosity rheology lab at the National Bureau of Standards on the old campus
As the opening of this film indicates, the JFK assassination remains one of history’s most intriguing murder mysteries. And the circumstances behind it may have had a tremendous effect on the course of history to follow, according to the filmmakers.
I did see Oliver Stone’s epic JFK, (Warner Bros, 189 min, R), in late 1991, and I remember the exaggerated versions of the probing of Jim Garrison and exploitation of the “gay angle,” as when David Ferrie (Joe Pesci) goes to a party with men body-painted in gold. And those interested in this subject would want to look at Gerald Posner’s 1994 book, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. I had thought that the most detailed evidence, including the studies of the Zabruder films, supported the idea that Oswald was the lone gunman, as in the Warren Commission Report. . Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) is very much prsented as the hero.
But the JFK story is a bit like
So an alarmist theory shapes up.
That is, ultra-right-wing
elements, who wanted a war in
Based on my own experience with the Army
(detailed in Do Ask, Do Tell), this theory rings true
for me. When I was a freshman at William and
Mary in 1961 two years before, the influence of McCarthyism and the
possibility of government meddling was still strong.
In the Army, at the Pentagon in 1968, I would read papers
showing concerned about Soviet nuclear possibilities as far back as
the Korean War, and I know that the capability to draft large
numbers of young men in a conventional war was seen as a deterrent
to nuclear war, even if there was concern of the use of tactical
nuclear weapons. The idea that freedom was
conditional and very much on edge very much ruled the Pentagon and
kept the juices flowing for the military establishment.
On the other hand, were a “right wind conspiracy” behind JFK
and were Johnson somehow part of it, how did he get going with civil
rights and his “Great Society”? We know from the
Johnson tapes presented on
All in all, it strikes me that powerful forces were squeezing on our society early in the Cold War. What would follow would be RFK.
I did enjoy Oliver Stone’s monumental and conspiratorial JFK (1991, 188 minutes—although the portrayal of David Ferrie painted in gold was a bit much.
Watergate, the fall of
A reader made the following comments. They are included here for accuracy.
In the 2003 commemoration The
History Channel showed (apparently) seven episodes, including some
The History Channel took this report and made it into a full two hour special ("Beyond Conspiracy", dir. Mike Obenhaus), broadcast on Nov. 24, 2007 (without Peter Jennings; the documentary is essentially remade and lengthened). In the early part of this film the Zapruder Film (link below) is shown and then analyzed frame by frame with a 3-D stop-motion rotoscopic animation (similar to that used in modern animation from Dreamworks, Pixar, etc). The evidence proves that one bullet passed through both Kennedy and Connelly, and the sight line goes right to the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository, where Oswald's rifle was found. A detailed history of Oswald is presented, with psychological analysis presenting him as rejected by his mother and having grandiose or narcissistic levels of ambition comparable to his education and talents. The period in Russia is covered in detail. The shooting by Jack Ruby is shown and analyzed. The claims in Oliver Stone's film are debunked one by one. The comment at the end is that it disappoints us that an insignificant man like Lee Harvey Oswald could change history this way.
The History Channel (on
But more important for this film
is how it traces how we came so close to the brink of nuclear war
during this 1000 day period, when Kennedy himself sometimes felt
privately that a nuclear exchange was almost inevitable. The
documentary makes the interesting point that Kennedy viewed the
series of confrontations in 1961, from a summit meeting with
The Cold War
mentality contributed both to the draft itself and the idea that
“men must be men” and protect women and children, but also to
the idea of student deferments, that “geeks” could get out by being
brainy enough. I cover this in conjunction for my own expulsion from
the College of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961 for
admitting homosexuality to the Dean of Men, covered at
http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/xchap1.htm There is a
certain irony that my own exchange with the Dean had started over my
use of patent medicines in the dorm, when the History Channel
special makes so much of Kennedy’s “addiction” to prescription
drugs. Later, I would be in psychiatric “reparative” therapy at
The History Channel followed up
with LBJ v. The Kennedys: Chasing
Demons, to cover the early period of the Johnson administration,
especially up to the time of his re-election in 1964. My own father
would say, “Nobody can beat LBJ.” Of course, we remember the ads
picturing Goldwater as a nuclear war mongerer,
when actually Goldwater would claim that “extremism in the defense
of liberty is no vice.” But LBJ went to work quickly to distance
himself with the Kennedy family, while J. Edgar Hoover began his
unauthorized investigation of Martin Luther King. Things would come
to a head in 1964 when Walter Jenkins was arrested for homosexual
acts in a public restroom near the White House. Johnson would then
What does all of this add up to?
The modern physical evidence is that Oswald acted alone, at least in
actually firing the shots; yet there are anomalies and stories of
various witnesses or participants in secret plots that are quite
disturbing, such as the mistress who was told to keep a low profile
for the rest of her life. It is quite credible that the
The Zapruder Film (26 sec.) may be viewed on YouTube here.
American Experience: Oswald's Ghost (2007, PBS, dir. David Stone, 86 min), blogger here.
The Kennedys: The Curse of Power (2004?, History Channel, 120 min) documents the history of the family back to the 1920s, with a very telescoped account of all of the family accomplishments and tragedies (it does not linger on the 1963 and 1968 assassinations too much). It spends some time on Chappaquiddick Incident in which Senator Edward Kennedy M. ("Ted") Kennedy was convicted for leaving the scene in an accident in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in a driver near Edgartown, MA. Some claim that he could have saved her. It also covers Kennedy's expulsion from Harvard for cheating (ref). Earlier, the elder Kennedy had once said that he didn't want power so much as that he feared that if someone else had it, his freedom could be taken from him.
Another important film about the
assassination is Executive
Action (1973, National General, dir. David
Miller) with Burt Lancaster as James Farrington and Robert Ryan as
Foster. Smaller than the Oliver Stone film, it emphasized the
business reasons for conspiracy, such as collusion among oil and
defense companies who wanted a war. This film is sometimes credited
as having motivated the House Select Committee on Assassinations,
and the film is seen as a credible counterweight to the Warren
Report since it plays down the hysterics of Stone’s film.
Bobby (2006, MGM/TWC/Bold, dir. Emilio Estevez, 120 min, R) is a Robert-Altman style drama of the day leading up to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (Dave Fraunces) at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan (David Kobzantev). Apparently the real hotel was used, but it has since been imploded. 22 characters are presented, and a number of dramatic situations related to racism and drug use are presented. Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) finally sings just before the Senator's appearance. William H. Macy plays Paul, the sympathetic hotel director, who fires one of his managers Timmons (Christian Slater) for not giving the employees paid time off to vote in the Primary. (I related to that since I have worked as an election officer in 2006.) Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf play two young campaign workers who succumb to the temptation of a day long LSD trip when they visit the room of Fisher (Ashton Kutcher). Fisher has a cute pet cat in his room, and the cat is shown almost as a parody of the MGM Lion. There is a chess double-header with John (Anthony Hopkins) checkmating a sandbagging Jack (Martin Sheen) twice with Black in the middlegame, but the kibitzing commentary is awkward (they talk about a rook sacrifice in unchess-like terms). A Latino dishwasher Jose (Freddy Rodriquez) can't get a second shift off to go see Don Drysdale pitch a six straight shutout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, so he gives his ticket away and is "crowned" as a King Arthur by one of the other workers, who gives him a radio. (The commentary is wrong; Drysdale, pitching at home, would pitch in the top of an inning, not the bottom.) This film as an old Casino Royale parade of stars making various appearances, including also Elijah Wood, Joshua Jackson, Helen Hunt. Some of them, mostly young men, will be wounded when Sirhan shoots, but only Senator Kennedy will die. The climax of the film is riveting.
The History Channel offers a 3:37 summary video "Infamous Murders: John F. Kennedy".
On Thanksgiving Day, 2007 ABC News had a story by Chuck Goudie from WLS-TV: “44 Years After JFK’s Death, New Assassination Plot Revealed: Just Three Weeks Before Dallas, Fed Uncovered Plot to Kill JFK in Chicago, Ex-Secret Service Agent Says,” here. The agent is Abraham Bolden, 72
An American Affair (2009, Screen Media / Astrakan, 93 min, R) features Cameron Bright as a Catholic school teen drawn into a "friendship" with an older woman involved in the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Blogger.
1968 with Tom Brokaw (2007, History Channel, dir. narr. Tom Brokaw), aired on Dec. 9, 2007, 2 hours, blogger discussion here. There was an unrelated film "1968: America Is Hard to See" directed by Emile de Antonio, which is now hard to find.
Robert Kennedy Remembered (1968, National General, dir. prod. Charles Guggenheim, 30 min) is a black and white documentary tribute to RFK. Blogger review.
American Experience: The Kennedys
(2009, PBS/WGBH, dir.
Phillip Whitehead, Marilyn H. Mellowes and David Espar, 180 min).
Related reviews: 13 Days; The Assassination of Richard Nixon; Death of a President ; Eyewitness to Murder: The King Assassination CIA Secret Experiments (about RFK) King; The Night James Brown Saved Boston
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