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This holds up very well
zorro620415 November 2002
I forgot about this movie until I saw it on tape in a cut-out bin. I don't know why it isn't a well-known film, it's very good. The cast is excellent, and the straight-forward tone is unique. There's no judgement provided by the movie makers on the plotters, who are on one hand presented as earnest men doing what they believed to be in the best interest of the country, and on the other as lunatic facists, discussing eliminating "excess population" as if it were an everyday thing.

The purpose of the movie is to educate, it seems, presenting a lot of facts or what are presented to be facts, about Oswald as a patsy. I've read enough to know that not all of what is presented as factual is true (the phone system being cut out in D.C. is a well-known canard, repeated in "JFK"), but the movie uses this approach to lay out a very logical scenario regarding how it could have been done. The political background, and the details of the lapses of the Secret Service are used to good effect.

Finally, there is the presence of JFK himself as a counterpoint throughout the movie. Films of some of his best lines combined with the haunting musical score lend an air of melancholy appropriate to the subject matter, a feeling that is shared by the plotters. There is a quote from Shakespeare given by Robert Ryan that sums it up; ". . . and nothing can we call our own but death . . . let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings." It's one fine moment of many in a well-crafted film.
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To the point; ahead of its time; overlooked
streetbb11 July 2001
With a running time of less than half of that of Oliver Stone's also excellent "JFK," this movie is more to the point. It doesn't bombard you as much with facts/theories as "JFK," leaving some to the imagination of the viewer. It was released in the fall of 1973, while the 10th anniversary of the assasination approached, and the Watergate scandal was in full swing. I was 13 when it came out, and the idea that there even could have been a conspiracy was frightening. Almost thirty years later, it still is, although with all the subsequent revelations and scandals in D. C., it does not suprise me anymore.

The movie moves along rapidly, and the acting by the late trio of Landcaster Ryan, and Will Geer (grandpa Walton as a bad guy, I love it!)is excellent. This was Robert Ryan's last film. It was an excellent final cinema performance by one of Hollywood's most under-rated actors. One can tell were Oliver Stone got his inspiration to cutting back and forth between black-and-white and color sequences. In that respect, Executive Action was ahead of its time. For almost twenty years, it was THE movie on the assassination. It is still an excellent companion piece to "JFK," and for those less interested in the subject this movie might actually be preferable, and it's theories are not dissimilar to Stone's. Unfortunately, the movie did not get it's due at the time of the release. At only ten years removed from the assasination, it was was still too painful a subject for many at the time. Finally, how Leonard Maltin finds this move "excruciatingly dull" is beyond me.
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A moment in history
sol15 November 2003
Interesting and effective film about the JFK assassination released ten years after the tragic event and seventeen years before the far more popular movie "JFK". With hardly any of the controversy of the Oliver Stone & Kevin Costner version.

A number of big oil-men get together in June 1963 to plan to assassinate JFK because his policies, domestic as well as foreign, are a threat to their money and power. The oil men start to put into effect the plan that eventually led to the tragic events of November 22, 1963. Good acting and directing makes this movie grab your attention and see it through it's tragic ending. Even though everyone watching the movie knows what the ending is which is anticlimactic.

What really makes the movie is the build-up and plans that lead to the events that happened in Dallas on that fateful November day. One of the most chilling scenes in the movie is when Farrington, Burt Lancaster, meets up in a diner with Operations Chief played by actor Ed Lauter. Farrington explains to him what he'll get for the "hit" in money and expenses without telling him who is to be "hit". Lauter realizes who it is without Farrington even telling him just by the money and effort involved and tells him surprisingly as well as shockingly "You've just told me who's going to get to hit!": Which is the President of the United State John Fitzgerald Kennedy without even once mentioning him!

Also very effective, besides the scene when the actual assassination takes place, is how the killers planned the "hit" and how they came to the conclusion, after hours and hours of practice shooting on a moving and difficult target, that one shooter doing it would be impossible. The killers instead opted to use at least three riflemen in different places. Unlike the version what we got from the official report by the by now totally discredited, by almost 90% of the American public, Warren Commission of a one man one gun assassin. "Executive Action" was also Robert Ryans last major role.
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did it really happen this way?
dtucker865 July 2002
This movie was made almost twenty years before Oliver Stone's JFK so of course people are going to say that it is trite, inferior and dated. I really enjoyed it though because it is a good thriller. Was the Kennedy assassination planned by a group of disgruntled rich guys who didn't want him to obtain cival rights and pull out of Vietnam? Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan are both superb as the big bosses. They honestly believe they are doing the country a favor by killing Kennedy. They believe they are being true patriots. Its really suspenseful watching the plot unfold and come together. The liberal use of newsreel footage adds to the realism and the scenes leading up to the assassination are particularly good and suspenseful. You can feel your pulse raising as the president rides to his doom. Sadly, Ryan died shortly after this film came out. Also, its fun seeing Will Geer, the lovable Grandfather Walton, in a slightly sinister role.
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Overlooked, but a solid companion piece to JFK
virek21320 February 2002
Released in November 1973, near the tenth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, EXECUTIVE ACTION is often overlooked as a film because of Oliver Stone's extraordinarily controversial 1991 film JFK. It obviously doesn't have the high-budget gloss or the montage that Stone's film does, but what it does have is a hard-hitting inside look into the individuals who might have had a direct hand in plotting this hideous crime.

Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan (in one of his final movies), and Will Geer are the conspirators, right-wing businessmen with an axe to grind. As in Stone's film, the motivations for the assassination are disgust with the way Kennedy handled Fidel Castro and the possibility that he would have stopped our involvement in Vietnam before it ever got to the ground troop stage. Based on Mark Lane's book "Rush To Judgement", scripted by former blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, and directed by David Miller (LONELY ARE THE BRAVE), EXECUTIVE ACTION is very somber and cold-blooded, but superbly constructed. It is amazing to think that three actors with ultra-liberal political credentials like Lancaster, Ryan, and Geer should be so icily convincing in their portrayals of fascists. The film makes very plausible the banality of evil. And like JFK, it also blows holes in the Warren Commission report big enough to drive a truck through and make apologists like Gerald Posner apoplectic.

Whether seen on its own terms or as a companion piece to the much better known JFK, EXECUTIVE ACTION is worth viewing--and, like Stone's film, asks us to consider the nightmarish chain of events that seem to have resulted directly or indirectly from what happened on that dark day in Dallas in 1963.
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A Closer Look at Some of the Background
dougdoepke15 August 2010
What makes the Kennedy assassination so fascinating to me is the conflicting evidence both for and against a lone assassin. This film develops one version of conspiracy theory, and a fairly plausible one if you believe the evidence weighs in a conspiratorial direction.

The version here, i.e. ruthless right-wing oligarchs, has had historically to compete with the also popular organized-crime-did-it theory. However, the two don't have to be mutually exclusive, though combining them may be too unwieldy to be plausible. Nevertheless, this version does appeal to the ruthlessness with which power is known to be wielded in our upper echelons. As some historians point out, the assassination itself marks the end of America's post-war age of innocence.

Judged strictly as a movie, the sinister intrigues come across as darkly entertaining. I can understand that lone-assassin defenders would despise the contents and the assurance with which they're served up. Nonetheless, the movie presents a fascinating narrative of deadly machinations at the highest levels. If the acting seems restrained, that's likely so as not to compete with the storyline, which of course remains uppermost. Taken strictly as entertainment, Leonard Maltin's "Bomb" and "dull" thus come across as judgments based on political opinion instead of movie-making art, and should be an embarrassment to his professional reputation.

Perhaps some background to the movie would be helpful to younger viewers. By 1973, the year of the film's release, critics, such as Mark Lane's 1966 Rush to Judgment, had shredded much of the Warren Commission Report (1964), putting the government's lone assassin theory on the strictly defensive. District Attorney Jim Garrison's independent New Orleans investigation in 1967 also lent legitimacy to critics of the Report. Just as importantly, government's credibility on matters of state had been undermined by events in Vietnam, especially as exposed in the Pentagon Papers of 1971. In short, many Americans were ready to believe in 1973 what they weren't ready to believe in 1963, namely that the official Report was an expedient cover-up, and that the true facts surrounding Kennedy's murder had yet to be revealed.

Executive Action stepped into the breach, hoping to reach the non-book reading public and alert them to what critics on the left felt was a likely version of the true facts. Note that except for the positioning of the shooters, other details—especially the network connections beyond Ryan and Lancaster—remain unspecified. Thus, this film version provides a framework in which elements of the CIA or other rogue elements of government, or even organized crime, can be slotted. Wisely, the movie doesn't provide more than this generalized, non-specific framework.

My recollection is that the movie never got beyond a limited release, and mainly to urban centers. So the goal of reaching a broader American public was likely not realized. I also recall information sheets being passed out to ticket-buyers, detailing some points made in the movie. But, whatever the reasons, this independent production failed to reach the numbers of Oliver Stone's 1991 recounting of the Garrison investigation. However by that time, a new generation and three decades had intervened and memories had faded.

But, if films like Executive Action continue to tantalize, it's because the government has never had an interest in really pursuing the case. That's understandable in the instance of the Warren Report. Keep in mind that because of Oswald's supposed communist connections, there was a real possibility in 1964 of nuclear war breaking out if a Soviet plot were exposed. Better a cover- up investigation that might otherwise go who knows where than millions of atomized dead. Yes, indeed, that's understandable. But what about the finding of 1979's House Select Committee on Assassinations, convened because of renewed public interest in the case. The Committee concluded rather shockingly that "… on the basis of evidence available to it (meaning the Committee) that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy." !! "Probably a conspiracy"-- Quite an official declaration after years of asserting otherwise.

On the other hand, it's revealing that there was never any follow-up by an agency of government following the House's nominal overturning of the Warren Report. In fact, I think few people are even aware of the government's now paradoxical position on the 20th century's leading unsolved murder. The House finding was simply shoved under the rug and forgotten. Thus the crime continues to haunt the nation's background like a wandering ghost too toxic for the government to finally track down. As a result, movies like Executive Action, for all its speculative dimension, will continue to entertain and provoke and, within limits, inform.
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Ten years after the real incident; 20 years before Oliver Stone told his version.
mark.waltz23 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This is the direct to the point account of a group of wealthy businessmen who brought together their brains and bucks to plot one of the greatest crimes of the past 100 years. They want to assassinate the President because of his extremist views. The motives are clear-racial relations, Vietnam, Cuba, general liberalism. The men involved? Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Will Geer, among others. What makes this scary? This is America less than 20 years after the fall of Nazi Germany and what is happening? Money and power are threatening freedom for all. These men truly believe that the Blacks and Hispanics should be given the same fate as the Jews of World War II. No lesson learned from those despicable crimes. Lancaster, ironically resembling Ronald Reagan, is the head of the organization, and dressed in every day casual clothes shows up at a greasy spoon to discuss the actual assassination. Robert Ryan, who sadly passed away in 1973, was very busy, appearing in four theatrical movies and one TV movie. Will Geer (Grandpa Walton!) is very memorable as the most sympathetic of the men, presenting reasonable doubts and expressing moral concerns for their plot. He also has rational reasons for going along with the group. The events building up to that November day in Dallas are presented directly, unapologetically, and seemingly historically accurate. Actual footage was interspersed with the filmed. Ironically, many of the on-lookers at the parade look very nefarious in their close-ups and it makes you wonder, how many thousands there actually knew this was going to take place? It is scary and still potent today. Stone made his film as an epic; This film is simply done to present an idea to the public to get them thinking. All this with the Watergate scandal on the front page. Considering it was Warner Brothers, the veteran studio of exposing crime to the public, producing this film, it's also a historically important film in our cinema past.
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Cold, emotionless, and gripping
tomgillespie200213 October 2011
David Miller's conspiracy-theory 're-enactment' shows the plotting by several oil-barons and intelligence officers to murder the then- President of the United States John F. Kennedy. Kennedy's pushing of the Civil Rights movement and plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam proves a threat to these emotionless rich folk, and the removal of Kennedy will benefit their business and, to them, their country. Farrington (Burt Lancaster), a black ops specialist, plans out the assassination in minute detail, with the backing of Foster (Robert Ryan), an oil baron. The action cuts between meetings between these men, the preparations of the gunmen and their target practice, and the recruitment and actions of a Lee Harvey Oswald lookalike.

While not being a fact-based and detailed account like the portrayal of Jim Garrison's investigation in Oliver Stone's excellent JFK (1991), Executive Action makes no claims to be historical fact, but instead a theory of how Kennedy's assassination could have been planned. How much is based on fact I don't know, as I had trouble finding much information about it. While it is certainly very interesting from a conspiracy- theorists point-of-view, the film works far better as a straightforward thriller, and certainly manages to build up plenty of tension regardless of the fact that we know what is going to happen, and that what is being played out in front of us is unlikely to be true.

It's a cold and emotionless film, which made me like it more. Lancaster's Farrington prepares the assassination as if he is preparing a holiday - matter-of-factly, routinely. The terrifying thing is that these men believe that what they are doing is patriotic and for the good of the country. Because of this, the film can be seen as a damning commentary of American values - the pursuit of money and desire for security is held in higher regard than doing the right thing, or equality. The film's low budget is certainly noticeable, and some of the supporting acting is often questionable, but this is a riveting thriller that contains many qualities that made the 70's the greatest era for American cinema.

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Well done examination of JFK assassination conspiracy.
kennygrob5 September 2001
Although as I recall, this film did not do well in theatres, but it is every bit as good as Oliver Stone's JFK. Obviously, the producers did not have Stone's clout. A strong cast makes this a very believable account of how JFK was set up. Executive Action did not have JFK's budget, nor was it as fancy, but the message was very clear. Conspiracy at the highest levels of government, business and the intelligence community coupled with a believable cast. Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan are very effective and the principle planners. If I remember correctly, this was Ryan's last film. Under-rated, this movie is a must see for all.
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Fascinating But Flawed 'What If' Scenario
zardoz-136 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This landmark movie--the first to tackle this controversial issue--integrates authentic black & white newsreel footage of John F. Kennedy with a dramatized conspiracy to kill the President. The film unfolds with the following prologue:"Before his death, former President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a three hour interview to a well-known television commentator. On May 2, 1970, when the interview was shown on a national television network, it included the message that certain material had been deleted at President Johnson's insistence. It has been revealed that in the censored section, Johnson had expressed misgivings about the finding that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone, and that in fact, he (LBJ)suspected that a conspiracy had been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy." The fascinating thing about this modest little picture is that the protagonists are all villains. Typically, a hero arises to defeat the adversaries, but no hero emerges in "Executive Action." Indeed, it is interesting to speculate whether this film could not have been produced before 1973 under the inflexible Production Code Administration simply because the villains win and nobody punishes them for their horrendous crime.

Director David Miller of "Lonely Are the Brave," "The Flying Tigers," and "Billy the Kid" helmed this provocative film that consists ostensibly of distinguished gentlemen--Washington power brokers acting as intermediaries--who assemble behind closed doors and discuss the plan. The first meeting convenes on June 5, 1963. Affluent businessmen James Farrington (Burt Lancaster of "Elmer Gantry")and Foster (Robert Ryan of "The Proud Ones")spend a third of the time trying to convince Southern politician Harold Ferguson (Will Greer of CBS-TV's "The Waltons") that Kennedy had put America on the wrong course. A professor warns them about the enormous power that the Kennedy dynasty controls, and they have laid out a time table that has JFK serving two terms as President and his two brothers Robert and Teddy serving two terms. "And in each administration, the brothers who are not president will take over the most powerful cabinet posts. They have several hundred million dollars and the best brains on earth to carry them through. They have put together a powerful coalition of big city machines, labor, Negroes, Jews, and that press that will make him unbeatable in 1964." Initially Ferguson shows skepticism and observes that Kennedy's father Joseph "is farther to the right than I am."

Before Farrington and Foster win Ferguson over to their cause, they explain that Europeans kill heads of state with conspiracies, but in America, lone mad assassins have consistently either killed or tried to kill Presidents. First, they design an elaborate scenario to incriminate a fall guy--Lee Harvey Oswald--as the assassin. Second, they decide to kill Kennedy while he is riding in a motorcade. Foster explains that "motorcades are scheduled well in advance and they give you a chance to fire from cover and getaway in the confusion." Farrington states that they will use "trained, reliable professionals." He elaborates: "They only possible scenario is three rifles with triangulated gunfire. Two firing at the retreating target. The third firing as the target advances." Interspersed among these exposition heavy conference scenes are scenes of two sniper teams practicing on dummies in a car drawn through remote locations. Ed Lauter of "The Longest Yard" plays the Operations Chief of Team A, and veteran character actor Dick Miller of "The Terminator" plays one of the snipers on the B Team. Indeed, this semi-documentary approach creates some question about the findings of the Warren Report that concluded beyond a doubt that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, gunned down the President on November 22, 1963.

The top-notch cast, headed by Academy Award winner Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan,and Will Greer as the conspirators, is seasoned with many familiar character actors populating the supporting roles. Producer Edward Lewis was no slouch either, having produced the volatile political thriller "Seven Days in May" with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, but the clincher is that former blacklisted Hollywood 10 scenarist Dalton Trumbo penned the script. Initially, Trumbo said that he did not believe in a conspiracy, but after he read several books on the assassination as well as the Warren Commission Report, he changed his opinion. No, "Executive Action" is not a conventional assassination thriller. Everything about it is pretty straightforward and suspense is lacking, but the audacious subject matter compensates for these departures from the norm. After all, we know that the assassins didn't miss and Kennedy died.Nevertheless, "Executive Action" did not stir up the controversy that the sensational Oliver Stone movie "JFK" with Kevin Costner generated many years later. Nonetheless, in light of everything, "Executive Action" constituted a bold move and there hasn't been a film like it. This was actor Robert Ryan's final film appearance. Randy Edelman wrote the haunting theme music. The film ends with the observation that an inordinate number of eye witnesses to the assassination died afterward of unusual causes. I remember seeing this movie when it came out originally in theaters.
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Well worth a look
Bruce Corneil24 February 2003
Entertaining and interesting film which puts forward a seemingly plausible theory as to why JFK was assassinated.

The main thought seems to be that President Kennedy's ideas in regard to nuclear disarmament, racial equality and ensuring a square deal for America's most lowly paid workers were just too radical as far as the country's hard line conservatives were concerned.

Appears to have been generally well researched and non sensationalist.

However, it's a fair criticism to note that some of the finer points of period detail are slightly shaky. For example, some of the hairstyles and fashions definitely belong to the '70s rather than the early '60s. We have a '61 Chevy coupe with a tattered rear back seat which has obviously been parched by a decade of sun exposure. But these are minor points.

Don't worry too much about nit picking as this movie is most certainly well worth a look.
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As speculation this movie is interesting
pvbklyn8 January 2010
As a film this may not be very gripping to an audience who only knows about the assassination of JFK through history. I have read many theories about the assassination and have dismissed most but I don't believe in the lone gunman theory. I also was 19 when it happened, was in fact on board a U.S. naval ship tied up to a dock in VA and was on deck watch at the time. I discovered shockingly that many of the crew on board was actually pleased when it happened while the other half were of course stunned and dismayed. In any case, I found the most compelling parts of the film to be the original footage that is spliced into it. To this day it is the first time that I have seen some of it. I found of course that with two terrific actors like Lancaster and Ryan (at the end of his career) could make the conspiracy more believable than not. Yes the pacing is slower than even I would like. But I would say don't watch this film for entertainment. Watch it because it provides a slant on history that you won't read about in high school and perhaps may wet your appetite to look into this further. Spending our time being merely entertained is just wasting time. And history is always written by the victors.
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The goal accomplished
Sven-Erik Palmbring5 October 2009
David Miller was not what you call an auteur director, but a very qualified and professional filmmaker, and that is good enough in my book ,due to the fact that I write from Ingmar Bergman land. Miller was the man behind for example: Lonely Are the Brave, Sudden Fear, Billy The Kid(1941) and many other films. In Executive Action Miller made a professional job about a probably professional "job", the killing of a president. There are so many theories about what really happened that fateful Novemberday down in Dallas in The Lone Star State. Take your pick ! Dalton Trumbo wrote a good script based on some of them, of course with the bottom line: Oswald was not alone. It is no secret that a president has many and often powerful enemies, that goes with the job. You can speculate about Cubans, oil magnates, the Mob and so on, but the crucial point in the film and maybe in real life is that the official story, outlining Lee H. Oswald as the only one who took executive action that day is not easy to believe. If so, he fired three shots in six seconds,and made the last one good. But documentary pictures show that the presidents head is thrown back when the last shot hits, which tells us that the third shot probably came in front. Executive action is a tight and well made thriller based on this hypotheses, about a conspiracy.You might even say that the more famous JFK(D: Oliver Stone) is based on Miller's film. JFK is longer and more visually vibrant and on the whole a more flamboyant production, but Miller's film deserve a better reputation. Maltins for example calls it a "bomb", and that is poor judgement from someone who should know better.

The cast is also superb, Burt Lancaster especially is good as the mastermind planning it all. And it is of course always a pleasure to watch Robert Ryan, an old pro and a no nonsense actor, always with integrity and a "know how" in his roles.If you want to see a real good thriller, regardless of your own thoughts about a president's death, you are on with Executive Action.
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Actors movie and a conspiracy theorist dream.
Spikeopath16 January 2014
Executive Action is directed by David Miller and written by Dalton Trumbo, Donald Freed and Mark Lane. It stars Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Will Geer, Gilbert Green and John Anderson. Music is by Randy Edelman and cinematography by Robert Steadman.

In essence it's a film that is offering up a different theory to the Warren Commission's report that ruled Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy. Plot has Lancaster and Ryan as shady conspirators who plot the downfall of JFK on that fateful day November 22nd 1963. There's lots of talking, with the actors chewing into the dialogue whilst brooding considerably, their motives explained clearly, the framing of Oswald brought to life, and it rounds up to a triple gunmen scenario. We then get a startling revelation about what befell a number of eyewitnesses from that infamous day.

It's engrossing without being truly riveting, but the cast make it worth time spent. While if you like to buy into the conspiracy theory surrounding the assassination? Then it carries some extra entertainment value. 7/10
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A fluid, well-acted film, anticipating some important political issues of the late-twentieth century.
Louis Godena7 April 2001
A tense, well-acted little film, co-written by McCarthy-era blacklistee Dalton Trumbo. Presents an entirely plausible scenario around the 1963 assassination of JFK, complete with unsavory CIA types and villainous Right-Wing millionaires. Burt Lancaster plays the veteran government spook, who puts it all together under the circumspect but watchful eye of Robert Ryan. There is an excellent (and chilling) scene in which Ryan lays out the "future" of US government covert actions. "There'll be 20 billion people on the planet by the Year 2000," he intones: "Pouring out of Asia and Africa, all hungry, all determined to love. We have ways of reducing that population to less than 500,000; I've seen the figures." When his companion (Lancaster) demurs ("We sound like God reading from the Doomsday Book"), Ryan shrugs. "Well, someone's got to do it. And the methods and techniques we develop now will help us control our own troublesome populations - blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, poverty-prone Whites." It is a terrifying sequence, filmed nearly a decade before the scourge of the AIDS virus, which many believe was ultimately created to target "troublesome populations". An all-around compelling movie.
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Executive action indeed!
danzeisen9 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
To those who have studied the assassination of JFK through the years this film is very polarizing. Almost everyone has an opinion of whether or not a conspiracy was involved, and government studies have come to differing conclusions. Opinions are like navels, we all have them. It astounds me still that a movie like this with heavyweight actors such as Lancaster, and Ryan could be made ten years after the assassination. Like many alive I recall when this movie debuted in theaters and then disappeared from theaters. I never got a chance to see it then, but was told it was very "Upsetting." Having seen it at in 2011 I would use the word disturbing. The story is told in a matter of fact, low key manner, that men of power and wealth discuss and come to feel that the 35th President must die. It is very chilling to me that it is told in such a low key, almost clinical manner. There is a cabal of power brokers, lead by Geer, who is eventually convinced of, and gives the okay to the assassination. These "Superpatriots" display an arrogant, and insular skewed view of the world and imply that "They know best." Where have we seen that attitude before? Even if you don't buy the conspiracy angle, this is a great movie, well made. The hairstyles, cars folks drove and other incidentals are, in my opinion, not at all important. The message is the thing, and the thing is to think.
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Well done, well written.
hrayovac21 May 2010
Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan lending their talents to this film are statements of integrity for each. The movie takes a pragmatic approach to the event and unlike the later film, JFK, does not set up the counter-conspiracy protagonists nor the after-assassination cover-up as a dramatic foil. It simply tells us how it could have been done and leaves it to the viewer to determine what is reasonable. In 1973 this was a wise move in that the Shaw case had been resolved a mere four years earlier. It is similar to the revelatory Ned Beatty scenes in the film, Network, in the scene where the Kennedy killers assure each other that the public will, "want to believe what they are told." That is the full extent of the American public's "role" in the movie, showing just the conception, practicing for and execution of President Kennedy. My only criticism is that the fleshing out of Jack Ruby's motives for eliminating Oswald seemed incomplete. We never get to see who Lancaster's character is connected to within the government, so we have to assume that he is capable of pulling off the elimination of Oswald without worrying that the plot will be uncovered. By today's standards this seems just a little bit loose but it also enhances the spookiness and horror of it all.
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An All Too Plausible Look At The Assassination Of JFK
Matthew Kresal2 January 2008
Nearly twenty years before Oliver Stone shocked audiences with JFK, Executive Action brought a conspiracy to kill JFK to life. But instead of presenting a stylish and flashy presentation that shows an ever evolving conspiracy as JFK did, Executive Action is a low-budget documentary style presentation that shows not an evolving conspiracy theory, but how such a conspiracy might have happened. The end result might not be a cinematic masterpiece but it is an all-too plausible conspiracy theory.

Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan play the men behind the plot. Admittedly this is not the best film of their respective careers, they both give strong performances. Their characters don't have much depth but as the men responsible for plotting the murder of the President, it seems rightly that they aren't overly emotional but rather amoral men with a singular purpose in mind. The only one of the conspirators who shows any real emotion about killing the President is William Greer whose character is the man financing the attempt. For much of the film he debates whether to kill JFK or not and part of the film's tension is whether he'll do it or not.

The star of the film isn't the actors of course. The real star of Executive Action is its script and documentary style of the filming. From the very beginning when we see shooters in the desert practicing the assassination to the framing of Lee Harvey Oswald with a double and altered pictures, to the meetings of the plotters and right down to the assassination and its aftermath the film never loses its documentary style. The filmmakers choose not to be sensational with the material (as Oliver Stone did with JFK) and by showing it "as it might have happened" (to quote the film itself) the filmmakers make a good case for a conspiracy in the assassination. The fault of the documentary style is in the large amount of use of documentary footage. This serves to throw the viewer out of the film but constantly shifting from 35mm film to hand-held footage of the assassination and motorcade during the assassination sequence and a chilling practice run. But outside of the fault of overusing the documentary footage the style works well.

Executive Action is not a cinematic masterpiece by any means. But it is an intriguing, thought provoking, documentary approach to the conspiracy angle of the JFK assassination. More persuasive then Oliver Stone's JFK, Executive Action is the most realistic fictional depiction of the assassination of JFK made to date. Not to be missed by anyone interested in the assassination, no matter which side of the issue you might be on.
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Don't Take Any of This Seriously
James Hitchcock6 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Executive Action" is a movie which purports to offer a solution to a real-life mystery; similar examples include "Zodiac", about a San Francisco serial killer, "From Hell" about "Jack the Ripper" and "Agatha", about the brief disappearance of writer Agatha Christie in 1926 (a mystery so banal that I cannot imagine why anyone thought it worthwhile making a film about it more than fifty years later).

Like Oliver Stone's JFK from 1991, "Executive Action" deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and (unsurprisingly) portrays the assassination as a conspiracy. (What would be a surprise would be if any film were ever to suggest that the assassination was carried out by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone). The idea that Kennedy fell victim to a conspiracy is, of course, a popular one, but the conspiracy theorists seem unable to agree who the conspirators actually were. There are a vast number of conspiracy theories out there, according to which JFK was gunned down by, or on the orders of, among others, the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the Ku Klux Klan, Vice-President Johnson, partisans of the murdered South Vietnamese President Diem or fanatical devotees of Marilyn Monroe, determined to avenge the death of their heroine at the hands of one of Kennedy's hit squads.

That last theory was invented by the British satirist Auberon Waugh with his tongue firmly in his cheek; he even claimed to have been a prominent member of the Avenge Marilyn Committee himself. The others, however, are all taken seriously, at least by those who propose them. Given that the script for "Executive Action" was written by that old Communist Dalton Trumbo, it is hardly surprising that it attempts to place the blame with the political Right. The actual identity of the conspirators remains rather shadowy, but they are presumably prominent industrialists, right-wing politicians and figures from the US intelligence community.

If, however, their identity is shadowy, their motivation is clear. They are dissatisfied with many policies of the Kennedy administration, especially on civil rights, nuclear disarmament and Vietnam, and consider that the death of the President is a price worth paying in order to reverse these policies. They fear that Kennedy plans to establish a political dynasty, with his brothers Bobby and Teddy succeeding him as President. They also have a sinister-sounding scheme, the details of which are never made clear, for "reducing" the population of the Third World as well as of groups such as blacks, Hispanics and poor whites in America itself.

Trumbo deals with one possible objection to this theory, namely that Oswald, far from having right-wing sympathies, was actually a known Communist sympathiser. In the film Oswald is portrayed as an innocent "patsy" framed by the conspirators who have employed a double to impersonate him and cast suspicion on him. There are, however, two more fundamental objections which the film ignores. The first is that Kennedy, as shown by his rhetoric over Berlin and his response to the Cuban missile crisis, was far from being the foreign policy dove that this film implies; indeed, during the 1960 election campaign he tried to position himself to the right of the Republicans on defence issues, alleging that the Eisenhower administration had allowed a "missile gap" to open up between America and the Soviet Union.

The second objection is that the American political system, under which the Vice-President automatically takes over in the event of the President's death, makes for continuity and makes it difficult to use assassination as a means of effecting policy change. Upon succeeding to the Presidency, Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, which Kennedy had initiated and continued nuclear disarmament negotiations with the Soviets (as his Republican successor Richard Nixon as to do). Admittedly, he did not withdraw American forces from Vietnam, but there is no hard evidence that Kennedy would have done such a thing had he survived.

The film was made in a semi-documentary style and was clearly shot on a small budget, despite the presence of two big Hollywood names, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster. Both were noted for their left-wing views, which may explain why they agreed to take part. Following "Seven Days in May", Lancaster seemed to have a sideline in appearing in movies where he played villainous American army officers or right-wing extremists; "The Cassandra Crossing" and "The Osterman Weekend" are other examples. It seems that he sometimes allowed his political sympathies to cloud his artistic judgement; "Seven Days…." itself is a reasonably good film with a very good performance from Lancaster, but his other ventures into films of this type, "Executive Action" included, rank among the least distinguished episodes in his career.

One problem is that the story is told entirely from the perspective of the conspirators, and conspiracy is not in itself a very cinematic subject, leading to a static film dominated by too much talk and not action. A more important problem, however, arises from the uneasy mixture of fact and fiction; scenes (in colour) showing the fictional conspirators are intercut with actual period black-and-white newsreel footage. I felt that the film would have worked better if it had been made in one of two quite different ways. The filmmakers could have made a pure documentary examining the possibility that the assassination could have been the result of a conspiracy and presenting the arguments for and against such a thesis. Alternatively, they could have made a film about a plot to assassinate a fictitious President. Instead they offer us a combination of the two which could mislead viewers into thinking that they were seeing the "truth" about the Kennedy assassination. Despite a legal disclaimer at the beginning saying, effectively, "Don't take any of this seriously", the film pretends to a much greater depth of information than it actually possesses. It might just as well have been the Avenge Marilyn Committee who were to blame. 3/10
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Best film about the framing of Lee Oswald
peter-152721 March 2006
After you view Executive Action it will be be clear why it is never shown on TV. If it is harmless nonsense, or just a good flick to watch , why isn't it shown on TV? After all, it is a good murder mystery with some big name actors and some recognized character actors of that period. I grew up at that time and was forced to watch some real awful stuff!! This would have been a major step up. Truth is, it presents a more plausible scenario of what happened after the Zapruder film came out. In the Zapruder film, we can see JFK was hit from the front. Actually , the doctors who treated him that day always maintained there was a neck wound and a rear exit wound. But they were told to shut up about it. And by the time the body got to Bethesda, the wounds were altered by a mortician. Get a hold of this Video while you can and pass it around.
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A wealthy group of elitist power-brokers plot the demise of JFK
bux20 October 1998
Hitting the screen a full decade and a half prior to Stone's epic "JFK" this is the superior effort. Story centers on a group of wealthy men set on assassinating JFK: shows the recruitment, training, of shooters, framing of Oswald and all else that has become conspiracy legend. Like JFK this one features a fine supporting cast and borrows liberally from news footage archives. Many researchers attribute the publicity this film generated, as leading to(one of)the decisions to initiate the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Today, "Executive Action" remains a damning contradiction to the Warren Report.
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Excellent Movie To Watch But Flawed In Reality!
agmines10 November 2006
I think it is an excellent movie to watch so long as you remember it is just a movie. The fact so many people would be involved make sit unrealistic. Too many cover stories to cover up.

At the same time, how an one would go about planning and covering up the murder is easy to believe if you consider the situation in 1960.

The Secret Service was by no means that great of an organization in those days as the Movie depicts.

A murder in Dallas was a State Investigation and the Federal Governmnet had no powers to take the body in those days either. Police forces

However, in the end , if you make a trip to Dealy Plaza and the Book Despository Bulding in person and Grassy Knoll Fence, one can easily see how short of distance Oswald had to shoot from the sixth floor. It is very close and very easy to put three shots out.

And as for the Grassy Knoll it is a easy jog of 10 seconds or less to view an entire parking lot if any gun men hid or left there.

I highly recommend everyone watch this movie and it is much better than JFK! The only that benefited from JFK's death was LB Johnson rise to the Presidnecy and huge Democratic majorities in House and Senate in the election of 1964. Not a Right Wing Corporation.
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The Oil-Wealthy Right Wing Nut Affair
tostinati20 September 2001
Those who have faithfully followed author Henry Hurt's books about the JFK assassination know the scenarios leading up to the event as an array of slightly maddening What-If? tangents that blandly treat several possible alternate realities as equally plausible. There is the Undercut-At-The Bay of Pigs Cuban Exile tangent, the Castro-Behind It-All tangent, the Double-Crossed Cosa Nostra tangent, the CIA/ Intelligence Community/ Military Industrial Complex tangent and finally, the Wealthy Right Wing Nut tangent. --Let's see... have I left anyone out? Anyway, Executive Action subscribes to the final theory, and plays out this particular What-If? in a way that is basically unexciting, sort of by the numbers, but which will no doubt have the conspiracy theory afficionado faction of the audience nodding knowingly and all the way through. At that level, it is satisfactory. The sad thing is that after all the energy expended by the makers of this cut-and-dried passionless pseudo documentary film, there are now any number of real documentaries that cover the territory covered by David Miller and company here in a far more challenging and compelling manner. Still, I give it 7 stars.
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It's no "JFK" but it has its moments
WildBill-1531 July 1999
Oliver Stone's "JFK" is far superior as cinema to this effort: production values, acting, script, and scope all favor the later, longer Stone film.

That said, I can recommend this little film to any viewer who would like to ponder the Warren Report at a deliberate pace and enjoy a conspiracy scenario created largely before Watergate "upped the ante" by revealing demonstrable evil.

"Executive Action" surpasses "JFK" in the words on the screen at each movie's end. The 1973 film ends with a mosaic of dead people and displays an actuarial computation of the odds that all of those people associated with Dallas and 22 November 1963 would be dead within ten years of the assassination. While I have reserved judgment regarding the accuracy of the alleged calculation, the monumental coincidences do fill the screen. This is much more effective than Oliver Stone's finishing hyperbole. More important, the faces filling the screen have much more impact than occasional bodies tossed from cars in "JFK."

In sum, this movie is worth seeing if you see it well rested.
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Still resonates today
david-54626 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this film recently with my 14 year old son. That he chose this film out a group of films that we had around the house was interesting in itself as it showed his interest in the subject. I was able to recount to him where I was at the time of the assassination of JFK. I was 17 years old in high school. We were writing a math exam and at the conclusion of the exam the teacher told us that JFK had been assassinated. We were of course quite shocked because JFK had been a hero to many of us.

Over the next few days we were transfixed by the television watching the events of the funeral and Lee Harvey Oswald the accused assassin. When Lee Harvey Oswald was himself assassinated on television right before us it was second shock. The assassination of JFK and LHO set the tone for the turbulent 1960's that was to follow. And it included the assassinations of two other giants of the period Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

I confess I barely recalled this picture when it came out as it seemed to come and go with barely a murmur. Certainly if one were to base this picture purely on its production values (it came off more like some cheap B thriller and Leonard Maitlin rated it as BOMB) and its wooden staid acting you would probably have wanted to avoid it. BOth Lancaster and Ryan were at best subdued in their roles while Will Geer was a delight to watch. Hard to believe he was later Grandpa Walton. Ryan and Lancaster were two of my favourite actors at the time and even today I will look for old Ryan or Lancaster films especially their early edgy noir films.

But this film not only stands the test of time it still resonates today. The interspersing of archive footage of Kennedy and Oswald was eerie and added to the tension. The long scene where they are putting together a deliberate doctored photo of Oswald is a grim reminder that it was later shown that the photo was doctored. And the ending where the TV announcer tells us that over the next few years 18 material witnesses were dead from being murdered or a gruesome accident. The odds of course being one hundred thousand trillion to one that an event such as that could take place.

That John F. Kennedy was assassinated by one man Lee Harvey Oswald is today for many of us a grim joke. It was too big for one man just like the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy was too big for one man as well. That after the assassination of JFK his major planks of the test ban treaty was stopped and the Vietnam war that he wanted to wind down was instead escalated reminds us of the words of former President Dwight Eisenhower warning us about the military industrial complex (especially in the opening scenes of "Why We FIght - 2005". Kennedy quite simply was a threat to the military industrial complex so he had to be taken down. The same for King and Bobby Kennedy.

Given the events since the assassination of JFK the warnings are prescient as are the other assassinations. Today we have George W. Bush an endless war for oil and global domination by the American Empire and a threat to WW3 with this time America as the bad guys. Of course equally there are millions of Americans who still remember and admire JFK and remember what he wanted to do. Sadly they are out of power but we are there and we shall never forget and it will be passed on to our sons and daughters.

As I said his assassination still resonates today and this film is a reminder. A film everyone should see.

David Chapman Toronto, Canada
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