2 FEBRUARY 1974, Page 19


Dallas mighthave-been

Christopher Hudson

In a week which has established complicity in the Watergate cover-up within a small group of men surrounding the President, a film like Executive Action ('A' Odeon, Leicester Square) seems less far-fetched than it would have done a year ago. Mark Lane, with Donald Freed as co-writer, worked his criticisms of the Warren Commission findings into a fictional hypothesis about a conspiracy surrounding the assassination of Kennedy ten years ago, and this has now been made into a film directed by David Miller and scripted by Dalton Trumbo. It is a highly competent, plausible conjunction of thriller-writing and documentary evidence.

Critics of Mark Lane's conspiracy theory will point out that the film's plausibility is what gives it away; that Mark Lane and Dalton Trumbo between them have picked out the evidence that suits their hypothesis and excluded all the rest. The group of powerful men who meet in the home of a Texan millionaire to discuss the assassination have to have links within the White House, the Pentagon and numerous Intelligence agencies. They also have to lay their hands on a highly-trained agent who precisely resembles the scapegoat they plant in the Texas Book Depository Lee Harvey Oswald. For the crux of the conspiracy theory is that the bullets that killed Kennedy and wounded Connally were fired, not from a single gun, but by three marksmen positioned around Dealey Plaza, employing triangulated fire.

, As the operation gets under way and the hit-men are trained, in ignorance of their target, we are shown newsreel sequences of Kennedy delivering speeches in conciliation of the Communist bloc and the black minority. Oswald's double meanwhile engages in the activities which will be brought up against the scapegoat when the time comes handing out Cuban literature, brawling with a gun. The marksmen are disguised as Secret Service men and given identity passes. A startling picture is built up, not so much of the hypothetical efficiency of the assassins as of the genuine inefficiency of the police and intelligence agencies throughout. The film dwells upon the coincidental mislaying of the emergency code book, essential for communications with the White House; upon the coincidental blackout of the Washington telephone system immediately after the assassination; upon the last-minute change of route which slowed down the motorcade in Dealey Plaza; upon the extraordinary interview with the press in which a spokesman for the Dallas police admitted that no tapes or notes had been taken of their in terviews with Oswald; and upon the hundred trillion to one chance by which eighteen of the wit nesses interviewed in connection with the assassination had dies, mostly violently, by February 1967.

Whether or not you think these details disprove the conclusions of the Warren Commission, they certainly helped convince the liberal acting fraternity in the States. Donald Sutherland first brought the material to the producer and Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan (in his last film) are among the plotters. The result is, as I've said, a fast-moving and impressive film but it's as much a piece of special pleading as any other. After all, we are given the newsreel sequence of Oswald's one interview with the press, in which he comes across as a pathetic and bewildered fall-guy incapable of understanding what's happening around him, but no mention is made of him shooting Police Of ficer Tippett in the theatre, the chief obstacle to the scapegoat theory. And if one puts those eighteen defunct witnesses in the perspective of all the witnesses interviewed about Kennedy's assassination, I have no doubt that the statistics dwindle below the publicity threshold.

Another film this week reveals the American police to be not, as Executive Action suggests, incompetent deadweights upon the scales of justice, but far more glamorous figures the last cowboys of the West. Electra Glide in Blue, ('X' London Pavilion) the most mellifluous and meaningless title around, is about an Arizonan motor-cycle cop who solves a murder and hits the bigtime but ends up, like all nice guys, on the floor.

In fact the music, composed by James William Guercio who also produced and directed, is the best thing about the film. Electra Glide is the name of the glossy, powerful motorbikes the police ride, but John Wintergreen, the amiable five-and-a-half foot hero, has no need of virility symbols. He's already making out with Jolene, the curviest barmaid in town, and he wants to get off the roads and into the detective force. He lights upon a corpse with a shotgun rigged to his toe, and cleverly works out that it has to be murder because a suicide would aim for the head rather then the chest. From this point, the extraordinarily stupid plot involves a cretin with the cunning of a hardened criminal, a senior detective who gets Wintergreen transferred back to road work because they turn out to be dating the same girl, and a motor-cycle cop who steals money to buy a new Electra Glide and has a fit and starts shooting up the neighbourhood when Wintergreen asks him about it.

Whatever Guercio may be trying to tell us, except maybe that small cops are best, is washed into oblivion by the relentless style. Wintergreen makes a passionate case for treating hippies with restraint, but since at the end he gets shot to pieces on the highway by a hippy with a gun, the film ends up striking the same sort of liberal attitudes at The Green Berets. Screened in eight millimetre on the back wall of a discotheque, Electra Glide in Blue would be a pleasant enough diversion, but I don't recommend you to waste your money at the London Pavilion.

Finally I shall simply warn you against the Peter Sellers vehicle, if anything so incapable of propulsion can be so described, Soft Beds, Hard Battles ('X' Carlton). At a time when all the pundits are shaking their heads over the future of the British film industry, this farrago of weak jokes and naughty knickers reminds us of just • now bad its past could sometimes be.