It is said the best parody is indistinguishable from the genuine article, but I’m not sure I buy that. If that’s true, then every movie that tries to play it straight but doesn’t succeed can simply be passed off as parody. That’s the way I feel about the critical reassessment of Showgirls that has been forming over the past decade or so.
It is also what 1979’s Winter Kills tries to pass itself off as in the supplementary features on the blu-ray. I’m not sure if the movie is smart enough to be a deeply subversive comedy. All I know is it is such a bizarre mess that I found a lot to laugh about. I just don’t know if I was laughing with it or at it. Sometimes, it seemed like it was genuinely trying for laughs. At other times, I felt it was trying to earnestly float some particularly daft ideas past the viewer.
The plot is a very thinly-veiled spin on the Kennedy assassination and the resulting conspiracy theories. Nineteen years prior to the present day in the film, the step-brother of Jeff Bridges was shot by a sniper in Philadelphia. A dying man who claims to be a second sniper puts Bridges on the hunt for the rifle he used in the assassination and which is now hidden in a steampipe. The discovery of that gun puts in motion the gears for intrigue.
I am a big fan of 70s conspiracy thrillers, so I was excited about seeing this. The opening credits are boilerplate for the genre, text in a medieval font over images of a chess game in progress.
But I felt my expectations slipping early on, as things quickly became ridiculous. At the ranch of his wealthy father (John Huston), there’s a montage of Bridges riding a horse through a variety of panoramic vistas, accompanied by a swelling orchestral score, just so he can apparently be far enough away you confidently yell, “YOU STINK!”. There’s his French girlfriend, who so wildly fakes an orgasm it’s like watching a fish flopping around as it asphyxiates outside of water. There’s Bridges’s encounter with Sterling Hayden’s military figure on his “playground”, only to find his car surrounded by tanks and given 30 seconds to leave before they will start firing on him–which they do.
Special shout-out to Huston for his performance here. If anybody went into this believing they were making a comedy, it had to be him. In his Bizarro-world take on Joseph Kennedy, I could probably count on my fingers the number of lines he says without profanity in them. The first time we see him, he’s leading a convoy of golf carts, each with an old man with at least one woman in fur alongside them. He asks Bridges, his son, if he thinks these lovely ladies are playing with his nuts.
Bridges, on the other hand, deserves the most credit and that is for playing his role in the exact opposite way. He is the straight-man to the insanity surrounding him, and he is as solid and dependable as he been throughout his career.
I would also like to single out Anthony Perkins for his role as the manager of Huston’s monstrous document archives and intelligence center. When we first see Perkins, he is on a set that could only be appropriate for a Bond villain in one that series’ more outrageous offerings. Perkins hams it up appropriately for the surroundings. When Bridges has to resort to violence to get the info he needs from Perkins, it seemingly channels, and is as hilarious as, the Black Knight sketch from Monty Python & The Holy Grail.
I think the best way I can convey the experience of watching this film is to rattle off some more of the many insane moments. Such as Bridges defending himself from an assassin disguised as a maid, who tries to throw him off a balcony, but instead gets her blouse torn open. Such as Huston knowing the exact number of times his Presidential son got laid while in office. Such as an extremely belligerent doorman for a fancy apartment building who won’t stop yelling about how the place is “Four floors of nothing but ugly people!”. Such as Bridges’s girlfriend finding the loophole in a restaurant’s policy of not admitting women in trousers by whipping hers off. Such as giving somebody financial advice while falling to your death.
Winter Kills is garbage, whether it was meant to be parody or if it is just a trashy conspiracy thriller. And I had an awesome time. I wasn’t bored for a single minute. This may be the worst movie I can honestly recommend for everybody.
Dir: William Richert
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins
Watched on Kino Lorber bluray