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Winter Kills is a 1979 American black comedy film directed by William Richert, based on the novel by satirist Richard Condon. A black comedy fictionalising the assassination conspiracy of President John F. Kennedy, its all-star cast includes Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, Richard Boone, Toshirō Mifune, Sterling Hayden, Dorothy Malone, Belinda Bauer, Ralph Meeker, Elizabeth Taylor, Berry Berenson and Susan Walden.

Winter Kills
Winter kills imp.jpg
Directed by William Richert
Produced by Daniel H. Blatt
Fred C. Caruso
Written by Richard Condon (novel)
William Richert (screenplay)
Starring Jeff Bridges
John Huston
Anthony Perkins
Eli Wallach
Sterling Hayden
Belinda Bauer
Dorothy Malone
Tomás Milián
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond
Edited by David Bretherton
Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • May 11, 1979 (1979-05-11)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million
Box office $1,083,799

The film simplifies the plot of the book somewhat, emphasizing humor. It follows the events surrounding the assassination of President Kegan (patterned after John F. Kennedy). Several years later, Kegan's half-brother Nick (Bridges) discovers leads which suggest there may have been a plot to kill the President.

Most of the film was photographed by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and the production designer was Robert F. Boyle, who cited the film as one of his favorites.[citation needed] Although Winter Kills was a box office bomb,[1] it has since become a cult classic.[2]



Nick Kegan (Bridges) is the son of world-famous tycoon Pa Kegan (Huston) and the younger half-brother of the late U.S. President Timothy Kegan, who was slain by a lone sniper 19 years earlier. When an ex-convict named Arthur Fletcher (Joe Spinell) makes a deathbed confession to Nick, claiming that he was the second of two riflemen who shot the president and was sub-contracted by an unknown agency, Nick sets off on a quest to discover the truth about his late brother's murder.

Nick's search takes him from the scene of the crime in Philadelphia, to New York, to California, and Washington, D.C. to uncover the conspiracy about President Kegan's murder. During his epic quest, Nick meets people connected to President Kegan who include the billionaire war-games fanatic Dawson (Hayden), a mob boss known only as Gameboy (Meeker), shady nightclub owner Joe Diamond (Wallach), a Cuban mafia kingpin named Frank Mayo (Tomas Milian), eccentric computer developer John Cerruti (Perkins), and a notorious Washington madam named Lola Comante (played by Elizabeth Taylor in an uncredited cameo).

As the list of suspects takes Nick deeper into his late half-brother's life and political secrets, all of the people he meets end up being murdered by unknown killers, while a mysterious woman on a bicycle always seems to be around at the time of the killings. Pa Kegan tries to get Nick to stop his investigation before he, too, becomes a fatality.

The ending of the film is ambiguous, leaving it unclear whether President Kegan was killed by his father or the father's then-assistant, John Cerruti.



The film original producers were wealthy marijuana dealers Robert Sterling and Leonard Goldberg, who had previously worked on releasing the French softcore Emmanuelle films in the U.S.[3] Many of the film's interior scenes were shot in 1977 at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, then home to the American Film Institute's film school.[citation needed] The production went so far over budget that it was shut down three times, having declared bankruptcy.[3] Goldberg was murdered (most likely by the Mafia) in the middle of production, for failure to pay his debts,[4] and Sterling was later sentenced to 40 years in prison for marijuana smuggling.[5][3]

Richert and Winter Kills stars Bridges and Bauer went to Germany and filmed a comedy called The American Success Company (released in 1980), whose distribution rights made enough money for Richert to fund a resumption of Winter Kills two years later.[3] All the same, the film's distributor, Embassy Pictures controlled the final cut.[3]

A few years later, Richert acquired the rights to the film and re-released a director's cut, with a new ending, in 1983.[3]


The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 86% of 10 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7 out of 10.[2] Many reviewers pointed out that the film existed on the boundary of a comedy and a thriller.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times compared the film to M*A*S*H and Dr. Strangelove, writing, "'Winter Kills' isn't exactly a comedy, but it's funny. And it isn't exactly serious, but it takes on the serious business of the Kennedy assassination."[6] The Times' Vincent Canby also praised the film, complimenting writer/director William Richert's imagination.[7] On the other hand, Variety magazine wrote of the film, "If there’s a decent film lurking somewhere in Winter Kills, writer-director William Richert doesn’t want anyone to see it in his Byzantine version of a presidential assassination conspiracy."[8]

Influential publications, including Newsweek and The New Yorker, also gave the film positive reviews,[citation needed] but it made little money when released (barely over $1 million on a $6.5 million budget).[1] Distributor Embassy Pictures pulled the film from theaters soon after it was released; Condon and Richert hypothesized that Embassy killed it deliberately in order to avoid threatening legal defense contracts elsewhere within the conglomerate.[9]

The 1983 re-release (and distribution to video) included scenes not originally shown on screen, including the original ending,[8] and with additional footage of Elizabeth Taylor.[citation needed]


Who Killed 'Winter Kills'? is a 2003, 38-minute documentary film, directed by Perry Martin and distributed by Anchor Bay, about the production of the film.


  1. ^ a b "Winter Kills," Box Office Mojo.Accessed Nov. 2, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Winter Kills (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Axemaker, Sean. "Winter Kills," Turner Classic Movies. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017.
  4. ^ Martin, Perry, director. Who Killed 'Winter Kills'? (Anchor Bay, 2003).
  5. ^ "Judge hits millionaire pot smuggler with 40-year sentence," UPI, October 23, 1982
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet. "MOVIE REVIEW: Movie: 'Winter Kills,' a Serio-Comedy: Spring Fever Time," New York Times (May 18, 1979).
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent. "FILM VIEW," New York Times (MAY 27, 1979).
  8. ^ a b Variety staff, "Winter Kills," Variety. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017.
  9. ^ Condon, Richard. "Who killed Winter Kills? The case of the vanishing movie involving a murder, a forty-year drug sentence, Liz Taylor’s repossessed fur coat, and possible skulduggery at the highest levels. The author of a satirical fantasy reflects on life imitating art," Harper's (May 1983).

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