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The Kennedys On Film


It not surprising that filmmakers have shown an abiding fascination with Jack and Robert Kennedy, the story of the brothers’ shared lives are filled with all the elements that make for high drama; power, glamour, intrigue and tragedy.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 to 1963, his term-of-office cut short by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas in November 1963. His brother Robert, known as Bobby, served as brother’s Attorney General and was instrumental in the campaign for Civil Rights in America. He was campaigning to succeed his brother as President when he was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968.

Before he won political office, JFK was famous as a WWII war hero. In 1963, Warner Brothers adapted the JFK’s own book about his war-time service on a Navy torpedo boat in PT-109. The biopic, released just six months before the president’s death, starred Cliff Robertson as Kennedy, the actor being personally cast by JFK, who was involved in all aspects of the production.

JFK’s assassination and the subsequent conspiracy theories surrounding his death were quick to inspire film and television productions. David Miller’s thriller Executive Action, which mixed fact, fiction and conspiracy in recreating the assassination, opened to a storm of controversy in 1973. Partly inspired by Miller’s vision of a dark conspiracy led by military and political hawks, in 1993 Oliver Stone released JFK. Based on the book On the Trail of the Assassins by former Louisiana District Attorney Jim Garrison and starring Kevin Costner as Garrison, the film’s mix of fact and conjecture told in Stone’s hallucinatory style proved an international box office success and was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Film and Best Director.

Emilio Estevez’s semi-fictional Bobby takes a huge ensemble cast of stars and casts them as the ordinary people in and around Los Angles’ Ambassador Hotel on the day Robert Kennedy was shot. The multi-stranded drama, with more than 50 speaking parts, was filmed in the hotel where the presidential hopeful was shot and includes newsreel footage of the assassination. At the end of the film, a speech Kennedy delivered in 1968 in Ohio about the mindlessness of violence is played over a montage of the American people’s reaction to his death.

Other filmmakers have drawn inspiration from the Kennedy assassinations, rather than portraying them directly. Alan J Pakula’s 1974 paranoid thriller The Parallax View is about a journalist investigating the assassination of a senator who gets drawn into a further plot to kill a prominent politician. The long shadow of the Kennedy killings and the Vietnam War are clear influences on Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, as Robert DiNiro’s Travis Bickle prepares to murder a politician in order to win the affections of Jodi Foster’s teenage hooker Iris. Taxi Driver, in turn, inspired the delusional fantasies of political assassin John Hinkley, who attempted to kill President Ronald Regan in 1981. Wolfgang Petersen’s 1993 thriller In The Line of Fire had Clint Eastwood playing a Secret Service agent still haunted by his failure to prevent JFK’s death.

The lives and untimely deaths of the Kennedy brothers continue to inspire writers and directors. Jeffrey Donovan will play Bobby Kennedy in Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film Hoover, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI during Kennedy’s term of office. DiCaprio will also play an FBI informant helping to solve the murder of JFK in Legacy of Secrecy, to be released in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.

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