Thank you, Nixon—love, Hollywood

Winter Kills

If the Nixon White House has one great legacy, it’s that its institutionalized corruption inspired an unequaled era of paranoid American cinematic classics. Besides All the President’s Men, 1970s Hollywood gave us the incestuous conspiracy of Chinatown, the psycho-political torment of The Conversation, and the post-war sociopathic moralism of Taxi Driver.

One of the most underrated of these films is William Richert’s 1979 Winter Kills, based on a novel by The Manchurian Candidate writer Richard Condon. Just as John Frankenheimer’s 1962 masterpiece satirically presaged the events of the Kennedy assassination, Richert’s film examines the fragmented paranoia of post-Watergate America through the lens of Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists.

Jeff Bridges plays Nick Kegan, the unaccomplished younger brother of a Kennedy-like president killed in office two decades earlier. After a dying man confesses to Nick that he is the legendary “second shooter,” Winter Kills leads us through a funhouse-mirror version of American history so unhinged we’re not sure we can even believe what we’re seeing.

Adding to the weirdness is Richert’s all-star cast—John Huston plays Nick’s father, a titanic industrialist concealing secrets, as a variation on his Noah Cross from Chinatown; Anthony Perkins has a couple of amazing scenes as a techie fascist; Sterling Hayden is a military contractor who plays war games with real tanks; Toshirô Mifune has a bizarre walk-on as the family butler; even Liz Taylor shows up as a D.C. madam.

Winter Kills was drastically re-edited by the studio prior to its release, and subsequently bombed; it was re-released in its current form in the early 1980s with the original ending and dark comic tone restored. This new version is the first anamorphic widescreen transfer available on DVD, and comes with commentary from Richert and Bridges, documentaries on the troubled production, still galleries and trailers.