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“I Would Leave Out The Men’s Room Attendant”: The JFK Assassination In Culture Part 2a

November 21, 2013

Kaffee: Maybe, if we work at it, we can get Dawson charged with the Kennedy assassination!

A Few Good Men, written by Aaron Sorkin

Ever since the Warren Commission Report was released in 1964, the gulf between those who think the commission got it right and Lee Harvey Oswald was the only shooter, and those who think there was a conspiracy, has been huge, but there is probably one thing which both conspiracy theorists and all but the most die-hard defenders of the report can agree on; they didn’t have the whole story. Of course, they only had a limited time to complete their investigation, they were under pressure to get it done on time and right, and both the FBI and CIA were withholding information from them. Supporters of the Warren Commission, however, feel even with all of that, the Commission basically got it right and recent technological advances bear that out, while critics insist the errors, the information that didn’t even come up, and motives they feel were ignored are just a few of the many reasons the Warren Commission at best, at best, was misguided and mistaken, and at worst, helped cover up the real truth. Again, while the Warren Commission was accepted at first, more Americans now believe there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and that belief has certainly been prevalent in pop culture over the past nearly 50 years. In this post, I’ll be looking at some of the movies, books and TV shows where those conspiracy theories have been demonstrated, discussed, or even mocked, as well as a couple of works that dispute the idea of conspiracy.

Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) about to shoot while brainwashed.

I. Premonitions of Conspiracy: The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days In May.

One of the most disputed aspects of Kennedy’s presidency has been over how much of a hawk, or dove, he really was. There’s no question Kennedy started out firmly as a Cold War warrior – as a Senator, he invoked the “domino” theory to defend the idea of the U.S. trying to stop the spread of communism throughout the world – but whereas some feel Kennedy changed those views while he was in office, especially after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis (they feel Kennedy was arranging to pull troops out of Vietnam), others feel while Kennedy may have talked like a peaceful President in public, in private he still espoused Cold War rhetoric (supposedly, neither Kennedy nor his brother Robert gave up on the idea of trying to assassinate Castro). Those who adhere to this latter view of Kennedy point to his interest in spy novels, particularly of James Bond novels, which had become popular at this time. One such novel was Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate, which came out a year before Kennedy was elected President. As the story goes, Frank Sinatra had a deal with United Artists to make four films, and he wanted a film version of Condon’s novel to be one of them, but United Artists president Arthur Krim was nervous about the subject matter, so Sinatra, who was friends with President Kennedy, approached him about the project, and Kennedy gave it his blessing.

The Manchurian Candidate – both book and film – is, of course, about the fever of another conspiracy that had gripped the nation in the 50’s and before; that of a Communist conspiracy within the U.S. government (in an edition of the novel I have yet to find again, Condon wrote in an introduction several years after the novel was published that he had seen an editorial claiming Joe McCarthy could not have done more damage to the country than if he was a paid Soviet agent, and Condon claimed this led him to wondering, “What if he was?”). Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), who at first glance seems to be the perfect (if somewhat aloof) American hero, as a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and respected journalist, is in fact a brainwashed (by the Communists) assassin, and it isn’t until Ben Marco (Sinatra), a former member of his platoon, starts having nightmares about what really happened to them when they were in combat (in Korea). The novel was a mix of satire, camp humor, and suspense thriller, and director John Frankenheimer and writer George Axelrod embrace both the satire and suspenseful aspects, sometimes all at once (as with Marco’s first nightmare sequence, where a scene of Marco, Shaw and their fellow soldiers waiting out a rainy day in the lobby of a hotel while a woman lectures about gardening becomes, in a 360 degree shot, becomes Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) showing off the soldiers to the Soviet and Chinese military officials in attendance). The McCarthy-like Senator Iselin (James Gregory) also gets satirized, with the idea, for example, the number of Communists he claims are working in the U.S. government is the same as the varieties of ketchup Heinz claimed to have.

Aside from the fact Kennedy was apparently a fan of the novel and gave the film project his blessing, another way The Manchurian Candidate has been connected with the president is the fact it was out of circulation for so many years after its initial release (in 1962) until its re-release in 1988. It was later claimed Sinatra, who owned the rights to the film for many years, withdrew the film from circulation after Kennedy was assassinated, but this has proven to not be true. In fact, the film, one of many older films to be re-released into theaters in the 80’s, was withdrawn after its theatrical run in 1963, and when Sinatra gained the rights in the 70’s, according to his lawyers, he kept it out of circulation because only United Artists would profit from a re-release or any showings on television; only in 1988, when a better deal had been negotiated, was the film re-released again.

A film that actually was delayed thanks to the Kennedy assassination, and one that fed fuel to the idea there was not a Communist by right-wing conspiracy to take over the country, was Seven Days in May, also directed by Frankenheimer. Originally set for release in December of 1963, the film was pushed back to February of 1964 at the request of star Burt Lancaster. Lancaster plays General Scott, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is planning a coup against President Lyman (Frederic March) for what he feels is the President’s dangerous policy of trying to pursue a course of disarmament with the Soviet Union. Whereas Manchurian Candidate aimed for both satire and suspense, Frankenheimer plays this one straight (as to be expected with a screenplay from Rod Serling, adapting the novel by Charles W. Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel), albeit with the same technical brilliance. And while President Lyman could hardly be called a Kennedy-esque figure (he was probably closer to Adlai Stevenson, without the jokes), the idea there might be a secret cabal in the military, with support from some government figures, was just one of the many ideas Kennedy conspiracy theorists would seize upon (in Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Negotiator, another right-wing cabal sets out to stop the U.S. president for the same reason, though in this case, they don’t attempt a coup, and one of them warns against assassination a la Kennedy because it would (a) martyr him and (b) his successor might push ahead his agenda).

Jack (John Travolta) listens for the explosion.

II. The Zapruder Film: Blow-Up, The Conversation, and Blow Out.

The film dressmaker Abraham Zapruder took of the Kennedy assassination has been endlessly debated by both sides of the debate over who really killed Kennedy, particularly, of course, where the bullets were fired from and when. The fact the film was sold to Life magazine and they held onto the rights for many years (until selling it back to the Zapruder family in 1975 for $1) has also added fuel to the debate, as some conspiracy theorists thought it was being hidden from view. Photos from the film were included in both the Warren Report and in issues of Life (the issue the week after the assassination, as well as a Kennedy Memorial edition in December and an issue in 1964 when the Warren Report was released), and the photos, along with the film itself once it was made generally available, have been obsessively studied ever since.

It’s hard to say whether Michelangelo Antonioni had the Zapruder film in mind when he adapted Julio Cortazar’s short story “Las Babas Del Diablo” (loosely translated as “The Devil’s Drool”) for his film Blow-Up (1966), the first of three English-language films he was to make for producer Carlo Ponti (the others would be Zabriskie Point and The Passenger). But if he wasn’t, it was certainly an eerie coincidence this film – about fashion photographer Thomas (a character reportedly based on British fashion photographers David Bailey and Terence Donovan, and played by David Hemmings) who thinks he’s taken a picture of a murder – would come out so soon after Kennedy’s death, and as public opinion was turning against the findings of the Warren Commission. Along with the paranoia that was starting to come into vogue at the time – Thomas is convinced he’s being followed, and gets suspicious when a woman (Vanessa Redgrave) he photographed is willing to do anything to get the photo back, including seduce him – the film also shows Thomas obsessively studying the photographs he took to try and find evidence of that murder. Antonioni has always been philosophical than political – even Zabriskie Point, which starts off as his most explicitly political film, turns towards the abstract about a third of the way through – but again, intentionally or not, this does capture how the Kennedy assassination made forensic scientists out of a lot of people.

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, which came out eight years later, is about sound instead of image, is about what might happen rather than what did, and is more grounded in the specific than Antonioni’s film was, but it’s of a similarly philosophical bent (and Coppola acknowledged the Antonioni film as an influence). The hero of Coppola’s film, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is the classic character who claims to be just about the work, and not getting personally involved in it – he’s a surveillance expert – until he does. In trying to figure out a conversation between the two people (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) he’s following, and what it means (in particular, the line, “He’d kill us if he got the chance”), Harry becomes obsessed with it to the point it interferes with everything else. Coppola’s film may have unconsciously tapped into the paranoia people were feeling at the time of Watergate, even though he claimed the timing was a coincidence, but again, it’s another case of someone poring over the minute details of a piece of evidence, just as people did with the Zapruder film.

In 1981, Brian De Palma crossed both sound and image strands together with Blow Out, and unlike Antonioni and Coppola, he made explicit (if guarded) political parallels. Jack (John Travolta), a former police technician turned movie sound effects artist, is out one night recording ambient sounds when he hears a noise and then a car goes over a bridge. Jumping in the water, Jack is unable to save the man in the car – who turns out to be a U.S. senator and presidential candidate – but he saves the woman, Sally (Nancy Allen) who’s a passenger. At the hospital, the senator’s aide (John McMartin) tells Jack to forget Sally was even in the car, and Jack reluctantly goes along with that, but he’s also told the noise he heard was the tire of the car blowing out. Jack insists the noise he heard was an explosion, as if someone shot out the tire, and he becomes even more convinced when photographs taken by Manny (Dennis Franz), who “happened” to be there, show what might be smoke from a gunshot. De Palma’s film calls up another Kennedy, Ted – specifically Chappaquiddick – but it also shows a conspiracy (we see Burke (John Lithgow), the man who did shoot out the tire against specific orders from his superiors, arranging to cover his tracks), shows conspiracy is a way of life for some people (which makes Detective Mackey (John Aquino), the detective working the case, irritable, as he thinks Jack and other like-minded conspiracy thinkers are nuts), and again, has someone obsessing over a piece of forensic evidence (once Jack, thanks to Sally, gets ahold of Manny’s original negatives, he turns them into a film to sync it with the recording he made, and we see him listening to the recording over and over) that might prove a conspiracy. One other aspect linking Blow Out with its predecessors; it ends unhappily, as to demonstrate the truth is out of reach.

“Steve Daley” (Tommy Lee Jones) and Yuri Nosenko (Oleg Rudnik).

III. “The Russians Did It”Yuri Nosenko, KGB, “The Deceiver”, “The Sisters” and Salt.

One of the biggest worries when the assassination occurred was the fact it might be part of a Communist plot, especially since Lee Harvey Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union in October of 1959, only to return to the U.S. in June of 1962. Was it simply because he was, as he put it, disillusioned with his life in the Soviet Union, or was he now working for them? And even if he wasn’t specifically working for the Soviets, were they involved anyway? One of the most fascinating figures in the Oswald story was KGB officer Yuri Nosenko, who defected to the U.S. in 1964 after contacting them in 1962. Nosenko claimed the KGB never tried to recruit Oswald (though they did place him under surveillance), nor did they consider him, or his information useful (when he worked as an electronics operator at a naval base in Japan while he was in the Marines; some conspiracy theorists speculate Oswald supplied the Soviets information that enabled them to shoot down Francis Gary Powers and the U-2 plane he was flying), because they thought he was too mentally unstable and unintelligent. Nosenko, however, got involved in a turf war among the CIA; a previous defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn, also from the KGB, claimed the Soviets were responsible for any thing that had gone wrong with the world since WWII, and also claimed the KGB would send someone after him to discredit him. This pitted James Angleton, head of counter-intelligence of the CIA and Golitsyn’s champion, against other factions in the CIA who believed Nosenko (they considered Golitsyn an unreliable conspiracy theorist), which resulted in Nosenko being imprisoned and tortured and the CIA torn apart by internal war for several years (Frederick Forsyth relays this history as background for a fictional Soviet plot to destroy CIA morale from within in one of the four interlocking stories of his novel The Deceiver).

Mick Jackson’s Yuri Nosenko, KGB (1986) tells the story of Nosenko (Oleg Rudnik) from the point of view of those who were trying to decide who Nosenko really was, including Angleton (Josef Sommer) and “Steve Daley” (Tommy Lee Jones), the CIA agent who became Nosenko’s handler. It begins with the Kennedy assassination, and painstakingly recounts how Daley attempts to try and find out whether Nosenko is telling the truth or if he’s a plant, and you see him descend to the methods of torture to try and figure out the truth. The film might seem to be too dry to anyone who isn’t interested in stories about the CIA (Robert De Niro’s movie The Good Shepherd, a fictional film about the early years of Angleton (Matt Damon plays the character, named Edward Wilson here), has Golitsyn and Nosenko figures, but ends before the JFK assassination. It is less dry than Jackson’s film, though, and more compelling), but it does shed some light on a man who, as I said, is a footnote in the strange life of Oswald, and Jones is very good as the CIA officer. Also of note; Edward Jay Epstein, one of the leading critics of the Warren Report and leading proponents of the idea Oswald was involved in intelligence work, was a consultant on the film.

In contrast to the docudrama approach of Jackson’s movie, Philip Noyce’s Salt (2010) is a high-octane action film that isn’t anywhere near as smart as it thinks it is. Even though it’s come out in recent years there have been Soviet sleeper agents still living in the U.S. and other areas of Western Europe (an idea handled with far more nuance, intelligence and flair in the TV show The Americans), Noyce’s film about a CIA agent (Angelina Jolie) accused of being a Soviet sleeper agent and forced on the run sacrifices verisimilitude for thrills, which wouldn’t be so bad except those thrills are pretty generic, and it doesn’t trust the audience enough. It is relevant to this discussion, however, because a man Jolie’s character interviews claims Oswald was switched out while he was in the Soviet Union for a body double who carried out the assassination of Kennedy. This is another theory that’s been debated by conspiracy theorists, but whatever you think of that theory, this movie isn’t credible at all.

Robert Littell’s novel The Sisters doesn’t seem, at first glance, to be about Kennedy’s assassination at all. Instead, it’s about two CIA intelligence operatives, Francis and Carroll – dubbed “the sisters of death and night”, which is taken from a Walt Whitman poem – who try to put together what they feel is the perfect crime. At the same time, a Soviet sleeper agent, who has been living in the U.S., is finally called for a mission (he is known only as The Sleeper). Meanwhile, his Soviet handler (known as The Potter), who reluctantly gave The Sleeper’s name up to his superiors, follows The Sleeper along with the Sleeper’s ex-girlfriend – despite the fact it’s against his orders and his training – because he’s convinced the Sleeper is being set up. Kennedy isn’t even named here (he’s known simply as “The Prince of the Realm”), but once you get to Oswald going to Mexico (and using Hidell, one of his aliases), it becomes clear where this is going. Still, Littell, in his usual style of CIA intrigue with a layering of literary flourish (the Whitman poem is referenced throughout), keeps you gripped throughout because you may not be able to guess exactly how it all shakes out.

Executive Action (1973): A sniper prepares for November 22.

IV. Homegrown Threats: “American Tabloid”, “The Cold Six Thousand”, “The Day of the Jackal”, “The Third Bullet”, Annie Hall, StakeoutAn American AffairExecutive Action, and Shooter.

By far, the biggest candidates for being involved in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy have been homegrown; the mob, the CIA (or some government types) or some kind of right-wing cabal. Each of them have their adherents and their theories, and this has been true in popular culture as well. James Ellroy’s recent “Underworld U.S.A.” trilogy takes us through the underbelly of the 60’s and early 70’s, and no surprise, Kennedy’s assassination figures prominently in the first two books of this opus, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. The former, told from the point of view of Pete Bondurant (an ex-cop working for the mob), Kemper Boyd (an FBI agent sent by J. Edgar Hoover to spy on Kennedy but who ends up falling in and out of his thrall), and Ward Littell (an FBI agent who goes from trying to dig up dirt on the mob to working for it), posits the popular theory Kennedy’s assassination was blowback from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and spearheaded by a combination of the mob, anti-Castro Cubans, and disgruntled current or ex-CIA agents. The latter picks up right after the assassination, and deals at first with how Bondurant and Littell help cover it all up and pin everything on Oswald (it goes on to deal with both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations, and pins them on a mob-related conspiracy as well). Ellroy’s style has become more clipped and staccato over the years (he often has chapters that are only one page, and sentences as few as one or two words at a time), which can become wearying at times, and he does like to roll in the muck of his characters, but he also finds the battered idealism in that time even if he doesn’t quite believe in it, and he presents his theories credibly.

Those who believe the mob, as powerful as it was, could never have arranged for everything to go off like it did*, believe the CIA, or other government agencies, were the ones who had the power and influence.** Stephen Hunter’s novel The Third Bullet features Hunter’s usual hero, Bob Lee Swagger, an expert with guns, who’s hired by a woman when her husband, a thriller writer, is killed while researching the Kennedy assassination. Unusually, the people Swagger eventually tracks down who are responsible for the Kennedy assassination (without giving anything away, they had government ties) did it because they thought Kennedy was going to get even more involved in Vietnam, not because he was going to pull end U.S. involvement. As usual with Hunter’s novels though, I found more posturing than plot, and it became wearying as a result (Hunter had dealt with a conspiracy to kill a President in his novel Point of Impact, which in 2007 became the dull and perfunctory Shooter; in the film, a man played by Levon Helm tells the Swagger character (played by Mark Wahlberg) about the shooters on the grassy knoll being killed three hours after the assassination and buried in the desert, adding, “Still got the shovel”). William Olsson’s An American Affair (2009) tells the story of Adam (Cameron Bright), a lonely 13 year old boy in 1963 Washington D.C. who develops a crush on Catherine (Gretchen Mol), the beautiful 30 year old woman who lives next door. Turns out Catherine is (a) the ex-wife of a CIA agent (Mark Pellegrino) and (b) one of the girlfriends of JFK (her character is based on a real-life person). The coming-of-age story and the conspiracy theory story (the CIA is implied to be heavily involved) don’t mix, and while Mol is terrific (as is James Rebhorn as a CIA agent who keeps a watchful eye on Catherine), the film doesn’t really add up to much.

Finally, considering all the hatred Kennedy had engendered in Texas, especially Dallas, before his visit (all the “Kennedy Wanted for Treason” posters, for starters), as well as with the John Birch Society and similar groups, there are those who speculate a right-wing cabal, possibly with help from the CIA or government agencies, killed Kennedy. David Miller’s Executive Action (1973), based on a story by leading conspiracy theorist Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment), argues two oil magnates (Robert Ryan and Will Geer), along with an ex-CIA agent (Burt Lancaster), planned the assassination. To the best of my knowledge, Miller’s film is the first fictional film (though supposedly based on real sources) made explicitly about the assassination, and the first to posit conspiracy theories. If only it were a better movie. It’s unfair to fault the movie for its mixing of real footage and fictional footage, since the technology wasn’t available at the time to make it look convincing, but Miller et al are fault for making a movie that’s so rote, despite the cast (Ed Lauter also appears as a man Lancaster hires to train a team of assassins).

*-Though it doesn’t address the question of whether there was a conspiracy, in Frederick Forsyth’s classic novel The Day of the Jackal, about a professional killer hired to kill Charles de Gaulle, there’s mention of how the French version of the Secret Service (who, of course, could take pride in their work, since de Gaulle never was assassinated) inspected the U.S. Secret Service and were not impressed with their protection services, which was born out on November 22, 1963.

**-Woody Allen, who as I mentioned in my introductory post had professed his belief in a conspiracy in his stand-up act, also floated this idea in Annie Hall (1977). His character, Alvy, is about to have sex with his first wife Allison (Carol Kane) when he interrupts by going on and on about how the Warren Report makes no sense, and there must be a government conspiracy. Allison wearily asks, “Then everybody’s in on the conspiracy? The FBI and the CIA and J. Edgar Hoover and oil companies and the Pentagon and the men’s room attendant at the White House?”, to which he replies, “I would leave out the men’s room attendant.” Also played for comedy, albeit with a more neutral eye, is John Badham’s Stakeout, where two cops (Richard Dreyfus and Emilio Estevez) on a stakeout argue about, among other things, the assassination (Estevez insists there was a second gunman while Dreyfus argues Oswald acted alone, and doesn’t believe Gerald Ford and all those people lied).

V. But who was Oswald? Oswald’s Ghost and “Libra”.

What all of those movies and books that I’ve discussed above (and most that I mention in the next segment) have in common is Oswald is barely mentioned. The documentary Oswald’s Ghost (2007), directed by Robert Stone (initially released theatrically before being broadcast on the PBS series “American Experience”), is set up (at first) as a debate between those who feel Oswald acted alone (reporter Hugh Aynesworth, historian Robert Dallek, Dan Rather) and those who think there was a conspiracy (Edward Jay Epstein, Mark Lane, Josiah Thompson), but it’s also an attempt to at least understand Oswald, as what Kennedy’s death meant in terms of the unrest of the 60’s and 70’s. I’ll have more to say about how the film views Jim Garrison when I discuss Oliver Stone’s JFK, but overall, while the film is somewhat tilted towards those who believe Oswald acted alone (Norman Mailer – whose book Oswald’s Tale is the best book I read in my research – says he started out as a conspiracy theorist, and allows that there might still be, but didn’t see any evidence for it), it is a good primer on the assassination and why it still resonates so strongly for people.

One side effect of Oliver Stone’s JFK is a planned movie version of Don DeLillo’s novel Libra never came to pass (the production company trying to film the novel accused Stone of trying to prevent the movie from being made, which Stone denied). Whatever the reason (it was finally made into a stage play directed by John Malkovich and starring Laurie Metcalf), it remains one of the great missed opportunities, because I would argue it’s the best piece of fiction ever written on the subject (Ellroy has long acknowledged using it as inspiration for American Tabloid). The title comes from Oswald’s Zodiac sign, and the novel goes back and forth between Oswald’s story, the story of CIA agents and Cuban exiles planning to attempt an assassination, and a CIA agent named Nicholas Branch who, 15 years later, is trying to make sense of it all. DeLillo really does take us inside the heads of Oswald and others involved, and also captures the history of the time. This remains, for me, the most fully realized of his works, and one of the best pieces of historical fiction I’ve ever read.

The Question (voiced by Jeffrey Combs) being tortured.

VI. Odds and Sods: “11/22/63”, “A Time to Remember”, “The Bourne Identity”, “The Tears of Autumn”, Watchmen, “Question Authority”, Zoolander, SneakersHot ShotsThe Rock, and “The Magic Bullet”.

Along with “would you kill Hitler?”, one of the most prevalent questions in time travel stories nowadays is “would you save JFK if you could?”. I’ve not seen the episode of the 80’s version of The Twilight Zone that dealt with this scenario, but I have read two novels that deal with it; Stanley Shapiro’s A Time to Remember (filmed in 1990 for the USA network as Running Against Time – never saw it – directed by Bruce Seth Green and starring Robert Hays) and Stephen King’s recent 11/22/63. Curiously enough, both start from the premise Oswald acted alone and was the guilty party. In Shapiro’s novel, a history professor who believes Kennedy would have stopped the U.S. from getting involved in Vietnam if he had lived (it’s especially personal for him because his brother died there) comes across a colleague who’s invented a time machine, and tries to go back in time to stop Oswald. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite go the way he planned. In King’s novel, a high school English teacher is persuaded by the local diner owner – who has a time portal in the basement of his place – to go back and stop the assassination; since the teacher has his own reasons, once he gets over the shock, he agrees. King’s novel deals more with the overall consequences of trying to change the past (Shapiro’s novel is only focused on Vietnam), and also, since the main character goes back a few years before Kennedy was shot, it gives us more detail on Oswald (in an afterword, King explains why he thinks Oswald was the only shooter and the research he did). King brings richer detail to his story, but he also fills it out with too much padding and subplots, so on balance, I probably prefer Shapiro’s take, even though he doesn’t write as well as King when he’s on.

Along with the theories I outlined above, there are other, more bizarre theories about Kennedy’s assassination that have been suggested in popular culture. Some of them have been played seriously – in Robert Ludlum’s original The Bourne Identity novel, Bourne thinks Carlos, the international terrorist, committed the murder while disguised as a homeless man in Dallas, Charles McCarry’s The Tears of Autumn, featuring his recurring character Paul Christopher, claims the South Vietnamese did it in revenge for Kennedy helping to assassinate their leader, and in the movie version of Watchmen (2009), the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is responsible (this is more ambiguous in the original graphic novel by Alan Moore). More often than not, though, these scenarios are played for laughs. In “Question Authority”, the ninth episode of the fourth season of Justice League, the Question (voiced by Jeffrey Combs), notorious for being a conspiracy theorist, is being tortured by Lex Luthor’s people to find out what he discovered when he hacked into Luthor’s files; among the answers the Question gives to “Tell me what you know” is, “There was a magic bullet. It was forged by Illuminati mystics to prevent us from learning the truth!” Ben Stiller’s Zoolander (2001), which combines a satire on the modeling industry with a Manchurian Candidate-style assassination plot, features a conspiracy theorist (David Duchovny, doing a nice job of sending up Mulder) who claims all of the assassinations of the last 200 years (including Lincoln’s) were done by male models. When a reporter (Christine Taylor) points out Oswald wasn’t a model, Duchovny retorts, “The two lookers who capped Kennedy from the grassy knoll sure as shit were!” Then there’s Phil Alden Robinson’s Sneakers (1992), where Mother (Dan Aykroyd), another conspiracy theorist, claims to Crease (Sidney Poitier), an ex-CIA agent, that the NSA tried to kill Kennedy but he’s still alive.

Unless the final reports and files on Oswald that are scheduled to be released in 2017 produce it, conspiracy theorists have and most likely will continue to look for the “smoking gun” that proves their theory correct, and culture has had fun with this idea as well. In Jim Abrahams’ Hot Shots! (1991), his spoof of Top Gun-type movies, the character Dead Meat (William O’Leary) tells his adoring wife (Heidi Swedberg) he has the final proof on who killed JFK, and it goes all the way to the top, but he’ll tell her all about it when he returns (naturally, he doesn’t). In Michael Bay’s The Rock (1996), FBI Director Womack (John Spencer) wants Mason (Sean Connery), a prisoner who’s been released to help rescue hostages on Alcatraz, to be kept on a tight leash because of all the secrets he knows, including who killed Kennedy (Mason used to work for British intelligence). At the end, Agent Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) finds where Mason hid a case of microfilm (in a church in Kansas), and tells his bride (Vanessa Marcil) as he looks at the film that she won’t believe who really killed Kennedy. And sometimes, they do get an answer. In “The Magic Bullet”, the 19th episode of the fourth season of Angel, Jasmine (Gina Torres), a mysterious being who has come to L.A. to bring what she calls her message of peace and love, tells Ted (Patrick Fischler), who owns a bookstore dedicated to conspiracy theories, that Oswald acted alone (of course, Jasmine turns out to be evil, so it’s best not to take her at her word. Plus, there’s an episode in the fifth season, which I never watched, which claims Joe Kennedy made a deal with the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, and Kennedy’s death was the result of it going bad).

I was going to write about The Parallax View and Winter Kills, but I plan to discuss those at length, and since this is an already monster post, those two movies will be in part 2b.

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