Winter Kills (DVD)

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Winter Kills (DVD)

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Winter Kills (DVD)

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Through a silo filled with contracts, past a giant room loaded with beeping computers, men in white lab coats, and a ping-pong table, on top of a scaffold beneath a giant picture of Earth sits an impeccably tailored Anthony Perkins, insistently pulling strings attached to the most powerful men in the world. This is how the planet runs in Winter Kills. The little-seen 1979 adaptation of a novel by The Manchurian Candidate author Richard Condon, Winter Kills takes a kaleidoscopic plunge into the JFK assassination and the conspiracy theories that surround it. Though the ping-pong table suggests that the film shouldn't be taken altogether seriously, Winter Kills otherwise plays its comedy with a mostly straight face, piling theory upon theory until the absurd and the semi-plausible start to look the same. When even the most ostensibly powerful man on the planet can be rubbed out, the thought of anyone running the show–even an insane Perkins–feels kind of comforting. Heading an impossible-to-duplicate assemblage of talent both in front of and behind the camera, Jeff Bridges stars as the half-brother of a Kennedy-esque president. Nearly two decades after the president's assassination, a dying man claims to have been the killer, putting Bridges on the trail of those responsible. First-time writer-director William Richert went on to a fitful career, but he could hardly have topped a film whose cast includes Bridges, Perkins, John Huston (playing a patriarch kept alive by transfusions from local children), Sterling Hayden (performing entirely from a tank), Dorothy Malone, Eli Wallach, Ralph Meeker, Toshirô Mifune, Richard Boone, and an uncredited Elizabeth Taylor. Sustaining a tone that's simultaneously funny, scary, and more persuasive than it has any right to be, Winter Kills nudges the underworld of power ever so slightly into the realm of the surreal. Mobsters don't just meet in unglamorous butcher shops; they nest there like so many black-suited crows. At one point, Huston leads a band of pleasure-seekers on a fleet of golf carts across a sunset-lit lawn like an unstoppable army of the privileged. Winter Kills provides a perfect, absurd finale to the half-decade of post-Watergate paranoid thrillers that preceded it and compares favorably to the grand unified conspiracy-theory fictions that followed, such as Oliver Stone's JFK and James Ellroy's book American Tabloid. Nearly as entertaining as the film is the second disc's making-of material, wherein Richert and others provide stories of drunk, stoned, temperamental stars, as well as the troubled production history borne out by Winter Kills' abandoned subplots and narrative shortcuts. Financed by soft-porn distributors with a sideline in the drug trade, the production continually ran out of money, at one point forcing Richert to make another movie, The American Success Company, in order to raise funds for its completion. Though Winter Kills met with glowing reviews, it received a limited release in only a few cities, prompting Condon to write an article blaming the Kennedys and the military-industrial complex. Perkins' character's possible involvement went without comment.

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