Executive Action (1973) – A Review


A review of the 1973 film Executive Action starring Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan, which dramatizes the possible conspiracy of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Executive Action 1973 JFK assassination conspiracy movie

Right-wing powerful conspirators are at work to kill President John F. Kennedy. They meticulously plan every detail and select an individual to take the fall – a fellow by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald.

As longtime followers of mine might know already – I don’t buy any of the conspiracy stuff surrounding the JFK assassination.

There was a long period I was fascinated by the story and ate up any theory that was presented, but at a certain point all that ended. I finally concluded that the most logical thing that happened was that a deranged Lee Harvey Oswald was at the perfect place at the perfect time and all alone with a shoddy rifle changed world history.

That’s not to say I’m not geared up for good conspiracy movie about the assassination however. Despite me not agreeing with its theories I love Oliver Stone’s JFK.I don’t buy a thing it’s saying and it’s muddy take on history, but it’s put together so well I marvel at it.

It’s strange to think how coming only after ten years of the assassination of the President and almost twenty years before JFK, Executive Action presents much of the same conspiracy theories that have been intertwined with the event from the very start and haven’t been shaken loose by a lot of people since.

Executive Action 1973 Robert Ryan Burt Lancaster JFK assassination conspiracy movieThe film opens with a disclaimer (something I think Stone’s JFK should have done) and goes about describing ‘this is how a conspiracy to murder Kennedy might have taken place’. Whether you believe it or not, well that’s up to you.

The movie does offer up some interesting scenarios as we watch the tale unfold from the point of view of the conspirators, but I thought it was a pretty bland execution of it and didn’t make it much of a gripping story.

Who the pack of conspirators actually are is left vague. We don’t know who Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan are or what exactly the reasons are they feel killing him is necessary. They’re black ops, oilmen, government officials. I guess everyone is in on this. There’s a lot of reasons being thrown about for the need of Kennedy’s death, but not one clear motivation. It’s more of a grab bag of reasons and maybe one of them will hopefully make us accept the premise.

The direction is pretty stagnant. There’s very much a TV-movie quality about the film. It did have a small budget, and the movie does little to try to compensate for it to make it look more interesting. During the majority of it that takes place behind closed doors and the planning very little tension builds.

Executive Action 1973 JFK conspiracy movieThings pick up when an imposter Oswald begins making the rounds to be purposely remembered by eyewitnesses, setting up the later testimony that the guy was unhinged.

On the day of the assassination stock footage becomes incorporated as we watch the pack of assassins execute the plan. That part is very similar to Stone’s JFK,but it’s not as well done or as stylish. It’s more of a crude cut and paste job.

There are a few moments I enjoyed. There’s the whole ‘faking Oswald backyard photograph’, which is shown almost the same exact way Stone did. There’s the scene when Kennedy is about to be pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital and the the flag outside is already being lowered to half staff. That’s a pretty poignant moment. 

There’s also an aerial shot of Dealey Plaza that offered a unique perspective of the setting for the assassination. I’ve seen plenty of re-enactments done at street level and documentaries walking around there, but that one overhead helicopter shot was new for me.

Executive Action 1973 Dealey Plaza JFK assassination movieI especially thought it was interesting since this was only ten years after the assassination, so the entire area didn’t change much from 1963. And I mean not only the Plaza, but the surrounding buildings as well.

The Texas School Book Depository still had the big Hertz-Rent-A-Car sign and clock on its roof. I imagine today there are much stricter rules about filming in that area.

While it might take the honor of being one of the first conspiracy movies about the JFK assassination, it’s not a very good one. There’s a lot of looseness being played with the facts. And even just letting yourself swallowing it for two hours, it doesn’t reward you with a tense-filled thriller. It all amounts to a rather plodding movie. While it presents its controversial theory, it’s not executed in much of a dynamic way.

Since the film came out only ten years after the Kennedy assassination it caused quite an uproar. Reading about its release Executive Action sounds like it was just as controversial as Stone’s film would be – maybe even more so, It ended up being pulled from theaters and not shown again for another fifteen years.

In 1973 it might have been received as a radical interpretation of the assassination, but today it comes off as rather text book and not as engaging to watch as its material should be. Hardcore conspiracy buffs might dig it, but the rest can take a pass. Watch a well done documentary about the assassination instead. Preferably, one that sticks closer to the facts too.


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