Executive Action (1973)

Executive Action dramatizes a theory about Kennedy’s assassination in which Oswald is not the assassin.  I am not a Kennedy assassination buff, so I cannot evaluate the movie on that level.  For me, it is simply a question of whether the movie is sufficiently credible to someone like me who has not studied the issue but has only heard that there are conspiracy theories out there that challenge the official version, which is that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of John F. Kennedy.  For the most part, the movie works and is entertaining.

I especially enjoyed the introductory part, which shows us the motivation of those that want to kill Kennedy.  We see a montage consisting of a refinery, an oil field, a factory, a commodities exchange, a bank, safe deposit boxes, and a board room.  Personifying these business interests is Ferguson (Will Geer), who will be putting up the money to fund the assassination if he gives his OK.  He is the one the other conspirators have to persuade.

The persuasion begins with what must have been a conservative’s nightmare in the early 1960s:  three successive presidencies, each lasting eight years, consisting of John F. Kennedy, followed by his brother Bobby, who in turn would be followed by Edward.  If John John would have been old enough by then to be the fourth Kennedy president, I am sure the conspirators would have added him to the list.  Whichever Kennedy was president, the other two would occupy positions of power, based on a coalition of labor, Jews, Negroes, and liberals.  The ideological agenda of this coalition will be socialism at the expense of business interests, a weakening of American military might by making nuclear arms deals with the Soviet Union, loss of influence in foreign affairs by pulling out of Vietnam, and loss of white privilege.

The men trying to persuade Ferguson seem to have a lot of knowledge about intelligence agencies, most prominent of which are Farrington (Burt Lancaster) and Foster (Robert Ryan).  When they are alone, Foster expresses his concern to Farrington about the population explosion (7 billion by the 1980s) mostly consisting of people that are brown, yellow, or black, all of them breeding with abandon, who will soon be spreading to Europe and America.  Foster believes a victory in Vietnam will give America enough power in Asia to reverse this trend, bringing the population down to 550 million by the end of the twentieth century.  Needless to say, you could not get the population down to that number in that time frame by birth control alone even if you sterilized every female on the planet, so we have to figure he is planning on more drastic means of population reduction.  And while he is at it, Foster also wants to reduce the number of poverty-prone whites in America.  Foster, Farrington, and the others make some really good rightwing villains.

Meanwhile, we see scenes of Ferguson watching television, in which he sees Kennedy talking about the test-ban treaty with the Soviets and about getting out of Vietnam, and in which he sees Martin Luther King giving his “I have a dream” speech.  He slowly becomes angrier and angrier until finally he gives the OK.

In planning the operation, Lee Harvey Oswald, who apparently has some mysterious connections with intelligence agencies, is to be their “sponsor,” which is to say, their patsy.  He will take the fall while three real assassins take out Kennedy.  They even get an Oswald look-alike to help create incriminating evidence.  It is interesting to see the mechanics of the operation being planned and carried out.

One weak link in the movie comes when Oswald shoots a policeman.  Watching the report on television, Tim (Colby Chester) says, “That wasn’t in the scenario,” indicating that they did not expect Oswald to do that.  Farrington tries to explain why Oswald would kill a policeman, but it is a bit lame.  After all, according to this movie, Oswald did not shoot Kennedy, so it is hard to believe that he would panic and kill a policeman, whereas that is precisely something a man might do who had just assassinated the president.

But I was willing to let that one slide.  It was when Tim goes to visit Jack Ruby (Oscar Oncidi) that we have the weakest link in this conspiracy theory.  The proof that it is the weakest link lies in the fact that we are not privy to their conversation.  The reason we do not get to hear what Tim says to Ruby is that there is no possible conversation the scriptwriter could come up with that would make any sense.  The whole point of this movie is to show us in detail what might have happened and to do so in a way that makes the theory believable. By leaving the conversation between Tim and Ruby out, the movie as much as admits that it cannot explain this part.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The scene we do not get to see between Tim and Ruby is so improbable that one comes away from the movie thinking, “Yeah, Oswald was probably the lone assassin of Kennedy.”

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