Winter Kills

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This thinly veiled and hyper-paranoiac take on the JFK assassination stars Jeff Bridges as Nick Kegan, scion of a fabulously wealthy and powerful family headed by patriarch Pa Kegan (John Huston). Bridges soon finds himself going down multiple rabbit holes while trying to unravel the conspiracy behind the murder of a U.S. president, his older brother.

Featuring an astonishing (jaw-dropping even) supporting cast that seems to parody the 1970s vogue for all-star epics like Airport:  Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, Sterling Hayden, Dorothy Malone, Tomas Milian, Ralph Meeker, Richard Boone, Toshirō Mifune (!), and a wordless, unbilled appearance by Elizabeth Taylor, as a character inspired by JFK’s mobbed-up mistress Judith Exner. 

Winter Kills was the directorial debut of screenwriter/director William Richert (1942-2022), described by Film at Lincoln Center as “a bold, brash uncompromising figure in the tradition of Orson Welles and John Cassavetes.” Richert used his charismatic personality to put together the all-star cast, along with an all-star crew including composer Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago), production designer Robert Boyle (North by Northwest, The Birds, and other Hitchcock movies), and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, etc.).

Though critically acclaimed on first release – with a rave review by Brendan Gill in The New Yorker and two raves in The New York Times (by both Vincent Canby and Janet Maslin) -- Winter Kills was dumped by its original distributor, allegedly because of its parent company’s investment in Kennedy family projects. In the early 1980s, Richard Condon, writer of the original novel (along with The Manchurian Candidate, Prizzi’s Honor, etc.), wrote an article for Harper’s called Who Killed Winter Kills?, detailing the film’s many behind-the-scenes intrigues. (William Richert, USA, 1979, 97 min.)