A Movie A Day #317: Flashpoint (1984, directed by William Tannen)

November 22, 1963.  While the rest of the world deals with the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, a man named Michael Curtis drives a jeep across the South Texas desert, heading for the border.  In the jeep, he has a $800,000 and a high-powered rifle.  When the jeep crashes, the man, the rifle, and the money are left undiscovered in the desert for 21 years.

1984.  Two border patrol agents, Logan (Kris Kristofferson) and Wyatt (Treat Williams), are complaining about their job and hoping for a better life.  It looks like they might get that opportunity when they come across both the jeep and the money.  A bitter Vietnam vet, Logan wants to take the money and run but Wyatt is more cautious.  Shortly after Wyatt runs a check on the jeep’s license plate, a FBI agent (Kurtwood Smith) shows up at the station and both Logan and Wyatt discover their lives are in danger.

Though it was made seven years before Oliver Stone’s JFK, Flashpoint makes the same argument, that Kennedy was killed as the result of a massive government conspiracy and that the conspirators are still in power and doing whatever they have to do keep the truth from being discovered.  The difference is that Flashpoint doesn’t try to convince anyone.  If you’re watching because you’re hoping to see a serious examination of the Kennedy conspiracy theories, Flashpoint is not for you.  Instead, Flashpoint is a simple but effective action film, a modern western that uses the assassination as a MacGuffin.  Though Kris Kristofferson has never been the most expressive of actors, he was well-cast as the archetypical gunslinger with a past.  Rip Torn also gives a good performance as a morally ambiguous sheriff and fans of great character acting will want to keep an eye out for both Kevin Conway and Miguel Ferrer in small roles.

Shattered Politics #82: An American Affair (dir by William Olsson)


Though the names may have been changed, the 2008 film An American Affair is clearly based on the true story of Mary Pinchot Meyer.

In the early 60s, Mary Pinchot Meyer was a celebrated member of the Washington D.C. social scene.  A talented painter, Meyer was also the ex-wife of CIA officer Cord Meyer and was an early proponent of LSD.  She also happened to the mistress of John F. Kennedy and reportedly use to smoke weed with him in the Oval Office.  It’s also been reported that she kept a diary, which mysteriously disappeared after Mary’s still unsolved murder in 1964.  Needless to say, many a JFK assassination conspiracy theory has featured Mary Pinchot Meyer as a supporting character.

In An American Affair, Meyer is renamed Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol) and she lives across the street from 13 year-old Adam Stafford (Cameron Bright).  While Catherine has secret meetings with the President and deals with her alcoholic ex-husband (played, quite well, by Mark Pellegrino), Adam watches from his bedroom window.  Eventually, Adam goes across the street and offers to work in Catherine’s garden.  Realizing that Adam has a crush on her, an amused Catherine agrees.  While the future of America is being determined all around him, Adam learns about life, love, and art from Catherine.

An American Affair is an odd mix of conspiracy film and coming-of-age dramedy but it actually work pretty well.  Gretchen Mol gives a good performance as the poignantly unstable Catherine and, despite the fact that Adam is kind of a creep at times, Cameron Bright manages to make the character sympathetic.  However, the film’s best performances come from James Rebhorn and Pellegrino, playing two menacing figures who always seem to hovering in the shadows.

An American Affair is a surprisingly good film.  I saw it on Netflix and so should you.

44 Days of Paranoia #5: The Trial Of Lee Harvey Oswald (dir by Larry Buchanan)

The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald

Today has been a strange day to live and work in Dallas, Texas.  It is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in my hometown.

As I mentioned in my review of Executive Action, those of us who live in Dallas are still expected to live in the shadow of something that happened before a lot of us were even born.  Today, the city of Dallas did everything that it could to embrace that shadow.  Despite the fact that it was cold and rainy today, a lot of people attended the memorial ceremony at Dealey Plaza.  (Despite the weather, nobody was allowed to open an umbrella during the ceremony.  Having been raised Catholic, I appreciate a little self-punishment as much as the next girl but considering how bad the weather  was, it all seems a bit much to me.)  One of the local talk radio stations spent today rebroadcasting all of its programming from November 22nd, 1963.  I guess the idea was to give people a chance to experience a terrible day in real time.  That seems a bit creepy to me but it does illustrate just how much the Kennedy assassination continues to overshadow life here in Dallas.

Considering just how much my city is identified with it, it’s perhaps appropriate that the very first film ever made about the Kennedy assassination was made by a Dallas filmmaker, the infamous Larry Buchanan.  As a filmmaker, Buchanan specialized in exploitation films that claimed to either be ripped-from-the-headlines or were presented as being lurid dramatizations of real-life events.  Hence, it’s not surprising that, in 1964, Buchanan gathered together a group of local (and obscure) Dallas actors and filmed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Lee Harvey Oswald

The eyes of a killer?

The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald takes place in an alternative reality in which Lee Harvey Oswald was not murdered by Jack Ruby and, instead, actually stood trial for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  The prosecution pretty much presents the case that was made by the infamous Warren Commission.  The defense argues that the evidence against Oswald is circumstantial and that, even if Oswald did fire the fatal shots, he should still be found “not guilty for reason of existing insanity.”  The film’s audience is meant to serve as the trial’s jury.

As I watched this film, two things stood out for me.  One is the fact that Buchanan never allows us to get a good view of the defendant.  Instead, we simply see his eyes.  While this was probably due to the fact that actor Charles Mazyrack didn’t bear a strong resemblance to the real-life Oswald, it’s still an occasionally striking effect that allows the character to remain a troubling enigma.

Secondly, and this surprised me as a contemporary viewer, next to no accusations of conspiracy are made during the trial.  There’s no talk of the grassy knoll or the military-industrial complex or any of the other things that one naturally expects when it comes to a film about the Kennedy assassination.  Instead, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald is based solely on the information that was available to the general public in 1964.  As such, it remains an interesting historical document, a chance to get a genuine look at what people actually knew and thought in the days immediately following the Kennedy assassination.

(Interestingly enough, Buchanan’s later films would often feature shadowy government conspiracies.)

When Larry Buchanan died in 2004, The New York Times summarized his career as follows: “One quality united Mr. Buchanan’s diverse output: It was not so much that his films were bad; they were deeply, dazzlingly, unrepentantly bad.”  For the majority of Buchanan’s films, that’s true but it’s not exactly true for The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Considering that  Buchanan is best remembered for directing a film called Mars Needs Women, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald feels almost respectable.

In fact, the film is a bit too respectable.  The dialogue and direction are often rather dry and the mostly amateur cast alternates between overacting and not acting at all.  If there was ever a film that could have benefited from some ludicrous melodrama, it’s this one.

That said, I enjoyed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald because I’m a history nerd and, if nothing else, this film remains an interesting historical curio.   As well, it was filmed on location in Dallas and I can’t complain about any film that features a close-up of my favorite downtown building, the old red courthouse.

Enjoy The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald!

44 Days of Paranoia #4: Interview With The Assassin (dir by Neil Burger)


Continuing with the 44 Days of Paranoia, we today take a look at one of the best films to have been inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 2002’s Interview With The Assassin.

Interview With The Assassin tells the story of Ron (Dylan Haggerty), a cameraman who, at the beginning of the film, has recently lost his job.  His gruff neighbor, an ex-Marine named Walter (a brilliantly menacing Raymond K. Barry), approaches Ron and tells him that he’s dying of cancer and he wants Ron to film him confessing to a crime.  After Ron sets his camera up, Walter proceeds to state that he was the second gunman and that he — and not Lee Harvey Oswald — was the sniper who killed President Kennedy.  When Ron asks Walter who hired him to kill Kennedy, Walter says that he was approached by a man named John Seymour but that he’s not sure who Seymour was working for.

Ron, not surprisingly, is initially skeptical of Walter’s claims.  However, Walter gives Ron a spent shell casing that he claims he grabbed off the ground after he shot Kennedy.  Walter explains that the only reason he’s been allowed to live is because he has that shell casing and, therefore, can prove that there was a second gunman.  Ron gets the shell casing analyzed and is informed that it was probably fired in 1963.

Still skeptical but now intrigued, Ron agrees to make a documentary about Walter and his claims.  Walter and Ron drive across the country to find John Seymour and confront him.  Along the way, they stop in Dallas and Walter shares more of his memories of killing Kennedy.

As Ron becomes more and more convinced that Walter is telling the truth, he also finds himself becoming more and more immersed in Walter’s secretive and fatalistic worldview.  However, as their paranoid road trip continues, Ron also starts to find reasons to doubt whether or not Walter is telling the truth about anything.  It all leads to a genuinely surprising finale that forces us to reconsider everything that we had previously assumed about both Ron and Walter.

I usually hate found footage films but Interview With The Assassin is a wonderful exception.  In his directorial debut, Neil Burger (who would later direct the brilliant Limitless) makes good use of the faux documentary format.  As opposed to many other found footage films, Interview With The Assassin actually provides a believable reason for why the characters are filming everything and, even more importantly, it’s willing to both explore and question the motives of the man holding the camera.  As a result, even though he spends much of the film off-screen, Ron becomes as interesting a character as Walter.

The genius of Interview With The Assassin is to be found in the film’s ambiguity.  While the film creates a believable atmosphere of conspiracy and paranoia, it also forces the viewer to interpret what she’s seen and heard for herself.  Is Walter crazy or is he telling the truth?  Is Ron a hero trying to uncover the truth or is he a frustrated journalist who is exploiting a dying and mentally disturbed man?  Convincing arguments can be made for any of those interpretations as well as a dozen more.  I’ve seen the film a handful of times and I’m still conflicted on just how I feel about both Walter’s claims and the initial assumption that Ron is meant to be the film’s hero.

Interview With The Assassin is a film that invites its audience to think.  As a result, it’s a film that deserves to be seen.

Raymond Barry in Interview With The Assassin

Raymond Barry in Interview With The Assassin

44 Days of Paranoia #2: Executive Action (dir by David Miller)

The Kennedy Memorial in Downtown Dallas

The Kennedy Memorial in Downtown Dallas

Even though it happened 22 years before I was born, I sometimes feel as if it was only yesterday that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

A lot of that is because I’m from Dallas.  When I was born, my family lived in Oak Cliff, a few blocks away from where the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald once lived.  I drive by the Kennedy Memorial several times a week.  I’ve gone to the Sixth Floor Museum.  I’ve made out on the Grassy Knoll.  On a daily basis, I see tourists who have come down here from up north with their preconceived prejudices, their unwieldy copies of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and their overactive sweat glands.  (“How do you handle the heat!?” they ask when the temperature is barely above 90.)  With the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaching, the Dallas Morning News has been running daily stories examining every detail of that terrible event.

The rest of the nation, of course, will never let us forget that JFK was assassinated in Dallas.  Just last week, there was an idiotic and bitter opinion piece in The New York Times, written by James McAuley, in which he claimed that Dallas was a “city of hate” that should feel more guilt over the JFK assassination.  As McAuley (who is studying history at Oxford and is not a resident of that city that he apparently feels qualified to judge) put it, “For 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.”

This, of course, is bullshit.

There are two competing schools of thought about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  One says that Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible.  The other is that Kennedy was killed as the result of a complex conspiracy.

JFK Assassination Bullets

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.  Well, Oswald was born in New Orleans but he was raised up north in New York City.  He was also a communist with a history of mental instability.  Hence, if you accept that Oswald was the lone assassin than you also have to be willing to accept that Oswald would have tried to kill Kennedy regardless of what city he was living in.

IMF Head-Perp Walk

Things get a bit more complicated if you believe that Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy.  But let’s consider the usual suspects that come up whenever people start talking about the possibility of conspiracy.  The Mafia was based in the north.  The CIA was based in Washington, D.C.  The anti-Castroites were based in Miami.  Again, all of these conspirators would have killed Kennedy regardless of what city he went to in November.

It’s easy for the rest of the country, in a fit of jealousy, anger, and delusion, to blame Dallas and Texas for the assassination of John F. Kennedy but, regardless of whether you believe in the lone assassin or a larger conspiracy, the truth is far more complex.

Over the next few days, as part of the 44 Days of Paranoia, I’ll be taking a look at some of the many films that were inspired by this assassination.  Let’s start things off with one of the lesser known entries in the JFK genre, 1973’s Executive Action.

Executive Action opens with a series of grainy, black-and-white photographs of both America in the 1960s and the men who, over the course of the film, will be portrayed as having plotted and carried out the assassination of President Kennedy while a mournful piano plays in the background.  It’s a low-key but eerily effective opening and it also lets the viewers know exactly what type of film they are about to see.  As opposed to Oliver Stone’s far better known JFK, Executive Action is a low-key, almost deliberately undramatic film.   Despite the fact that there are some familiar faces in the cast (or, at the very least, familiar faces to those of us who watch TCM), Executive Action almost feels as if it could have been a documentary.


As the film opens in 1963, we see a group of very rich men talking about the future of America.  Ferguson (Will Geer) and Foster (Robert Ryan) are concerned that President Kennedy’s policies are going to destroy America.  Foster is worried that Kennedy is planning on cutting back on military spending.  Ferguson is upset by Kennedy’s support of the Civil Rights movement.  (In one memorable scene, we see Martin Luther King delivering his Dream speech on TV before the camera pulls back to reveal Ferguson watching in disgust.)  Their associate, the shadowy Farrington (Burt Lancaster), argues that the only way to stop Kennedy is to assassinate him and put the blame on a lone gunman.

With the support of Ferguson and Foster, Farrington recruits a group of gunmen (led by Ed Lauter and including Roger Corman regular Dick Miller) and works to set up the perfect patsy.  A man (James MacColl) goes around Dallas, acting obnoxious and telling anyone who will listen that his name is Lee Oswald.  At Ferguson’s insistence, a picture is doctored to make it appear as if Lee Harvey Oswald is posing in his backyard with a rifle.  As all of this goes on, the date of November 22nd steadily approaches…


As I stated before, Executive Action is an almost obsessively low-key film.  That, however, works to the film’s advantage.  Ferguson, Foster, Farrington, and the other conspirators are chillingly believable because they are presented almost as being anonymous.  Instead of being portrayed as being super villains, they are instead men who approach assassination as just another part of doing business.  The impression one gets is that Kennedy isn’t the first leader they’ve had killed and he probably wasn’t the last.  Director David Miller seamlessly mixes historical footage with film reenactments and the end result is a disturbingly plausible film.

Unfortunately, Executive Action is less well-known than some of the other films that have argued that a conspiracy was responsible for the assassination for John F. Kennedy.  However, it may very well be the best.