Winter Kills 1979 *****

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William Richert’s adaptation of Richard Condon’s novel has a reputation of a lost gem; after a disastrous shoot and release in 1979, Richert managed to acquire the rights and create a director’s cut of the political thriller, and it’s this version that’s popped up on Amazon Prime. A dark fantasy on the lines of The Manchurian Candidate, Winter Kills is a fiction with a clear basis in fact; the assassination of US president John F Kennedy is never mentioned, but it’s clear that’s the subject. Jeff Bridges plays Nick, the half brother of the late President Keegan, and Nick follows a trail of breadcrumbs in the hope of finding out who wanted his bother dead. This starts with a man who has just fallen from an oil-rig, and makes a deathbed confession that leads Nick to a hidden rifle that was used to kill the president. Nick’s investigation immediately leads to a massacre, and Nick returns home for help from his billionaire father (John Huston). The production difficulties on Winter Kills would make a film in themselves (or at least the 40 minute doc Who Killed Winter Kills) with producers imprisoned for marijuana offences and even murdered, and the production shut down several times. Even by today’s standards, Winter Kills is pretty daring in its roman a clef of American politics, and there’s some great cameos from Elizabeth Taylor, Eli Wallach and Sterling Hayden as a tank-loving maverick. Huston is a bit much as Pa, but most of the elements of Winter Kills have matured over the years, making it something of a must-see movie for anyone who hasn’t heard of it.

 

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