Winter Kills (1979)

R | 97 mins | Comedy-drama | 18 May 1979

Director:

William Richert

Writer:

William Richert

Producer:

Fred Caruso

Cinematographer:

Vilmos Zsigmond

Production Designer:

Robert Boyle

Production Company:

Winter Gold Productions
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HISTORY

On 16 Jul 1975, Var announced that executive producer Leonard J. Goldberg had purchased the film rights to Richard Condon’s 1974 best-selling novel, Winter Kills, for the company he co-founded with executive producer Robert Sterling, A. Stirling Gold Ltd. An 11 Mar 1985 Times article stated that the property sold for $75,000. Previously, with the success of Condon’s 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate, and its 1962 film adaptation (see entry), Winter Kills was considered for an option by producer Herman Levin before it was published, according to a 28 May 1979 New York news item. However, the project was refused by four major Hollywood studios. Condon told New York that the plot, based on the 22 Nov 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was considered inappropriate for the time because Ted Kennedy was expected to make a bid for the 1976 presidential election.
       A 24 Aug 1976 DV article noted that the $6.5 million picture would mark the feature film production debut for A. Stirling Gold Ltd., which had existed for sixteen months as a distributor, and actors Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins and Richard Boone were already cast. Although a 5 Dec 1975 HR news item announced that Fred Segal, the brother of actor George Segal, was hired to adapt the novel, DV reported that William Richert would write the screenplay and direct. According to Goldberg, the film was financed entirely by private investors, including members of his family, but a 10 Jan 1977 LAHExam brief noted ...

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On 16 Jul 1975, Var announced that executive producer Leonard J. Goldberg had purchased the film rights to Richard Condon’s 1974 best-selling novel, Winter Kills, for the company he co-founded with executive producer Robert Sterling, A. Stirling Gold Ltd. An 11 Mar 1985 Times article stated that the property sold for $75,000. Previously, with the success of Condon’s 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate, and its 1962 film adaptation (see entry), Winter Kills was considered for an option by producer Herman Levin before it was published, according to a 28 May 1979 New York news item. However, the project was refused by four major Hollywood studios. Condon told New York that the plot, based on the 22 Nov 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was considered inappropriate for the time because Ted Kennedy was expected to make a bid for the 1976 presidential election.
       A 24 Aug 1976 DV article noted that the $6.5 million picture would mark the feature film production debut for A. Stirling Gold Ltd., which had existed for sixteen months as a distributor, and actors Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins and Richard Boone were already cast. Although a 5 Dec 1975 HR news item announced that Fred Segal, the brother of actor George Segal, was hired to adapt the novel, DV reported that William Richert would write the screenplay and direct. According to Goldberg, the film was financed entirely by private investors, including members of his family, but a 10 Jan 1977 LAHExam brief noted that international distributor Carolco was partially financing the picture. However, Carolco is not credited in the film.
       As noted in various contemporary sources, including a news item in the Apr 1977 edition of Los Angeles Magazine, Elizabeth Taylor made an uncredited cameo appearance as a “Washington madam” who blackmailed the President. Taylor’s husband at the time, John Warner, played the uncredited role of the President, but only his hands appear onscreen.
       A 17 Jan 1977 Box news item reported that principal photography began 13 Dec 1976 at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M-G-M) studio and on various locations throughout Los Angeles, CA. Filming was scheduled to finish in Philadelphia, PA, after thirteen weeks of production. Additional locations included New York City, the Furnace Creek resort in Death Valley National Park, CA, and Simi Valley, CA, where scenes of the simulated World War II games were filmed, according to studio production notes in AMPAS library files. A two-story set, approximately the length of a city block, was constructed on three M-G-M sound stages, including Stage 27, which was known for housing the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz (1939, see entry); scenes filmed at M-G-M included “Nick Keegan’s” tour through “John Cerruti’s” financial control center.
       On 28 Feb 1977, DV announced that filming at M-G-M was shut down for one day by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), who claimed that crew members had not been compensated for $50-60,000 in “pension and health-and-welfare plans.” A 21 Feb 1977 Box brief stated that financial advisor Alfons Bach II was hired to raise $3 million to ensure the film’s completion, and although $1 million was secured, the production came to a standstill again on 7 Mar 1977, according to an 8 Mar 1977 Var news item.
       As noted in a 13 Dec 1978 DV article, Stirling Gold filed for bankruptcy in May 1977, forcing the production to take an indefinite hiatus. Six months later, in the fall of 1978, the company reformed as Winter Gold Productions, using its Chapter XI right to reorganize under the United States Bankruptcy Code. While the film’s “financial debacle” was making news, former M-G-M vice president Benjamin Melniker negotiated a distribution deal with Avco Embassy Pictures, and on 22 Nov 1978, HR announced that Avco Embassy had acquired the film and agreed to finance its completion. Additionally, San Francisco real-estate tycoon Frank Aries raised over $1 million to finish the film. Aries is credited onscreen as the picture’s presenter. Melniker, who claimed that Goldberg and Sterling began production with only a portion of the budget financed, also negotiated a deferred payment plan with Stirling Gold’s creditors, including M-G-M, who was owed $300,000 for studio facilities, and Warner Bros., who invested $375,000. IATSE and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) agreed to late compensation of over $300,000 in unpaid wages and the state and federal governments settled for overdue payments of approximately $525,000 in payroll taxes once the film was released. DV claimed that Elizabeth Taylor was the only actor paid in full to that time and a 17 May 1979 NYT article stated that Taylor demanded $100,000 before setting foot on set, as well as the lynx fur coat she wore in her role; however, the coat was repossessed by the furrier. Other actors, including Eli Wallach, were never compensated for their work and were forced to pay out of pocket for hotel accommodations during production. Jeff Bridges was reportedly owed $100,000 in back wages. Richert told NYT that the actors were “unbelievably cooperative” despite the film’s financial setbacks. Bridges turned down other roles while the picture was in limbo and worked with John Huston and Anthony Perkins to raise funds.
       A 1 Jan 1979 Box news item stated that filming would resume in New York City after nearly two years on hiatus. The picture reportedly marked the first time that a “single film” filed Chapter XI proceedings and the first time a theatrically-released feature film resumed production after being “on hold” for two years.
       As noted in the 17 May 1979 NYT, executive producer Leonard J. Goldberg was discovered handcuffed and shot dead in his New York City apartment the day after his thirty-third birthday in Apr 1979, just one month before the film opened. On 26 Mar 1981, Palm Beach Post reported that Goldberg’s partner, executive producer Robert Sterling, was arrested for masterminding “a multimillion dollar marijuana smuggling ring,” transporting thousands of pounds of Colombian marijuana through FL for shipment throughout the U.S. A 10–16 Mar 1983 issue of Drama-Logue stated that Sterling was serving a forty-year sentence without parole. In the 11 Mar 1985 Times article, Condon speculated that the materialized portion of the film’s budget was financed by “Southern Florida crime money.”
       After an intensive, $2.5 million publicity campaign, the film was scheduled to make its world premiere in New York City on 17 May 1979, according to a 25 Apr 1979 Var news item, and the event benefitted the Mother Cabrini Hospital. While a 6 Feb 1979 HR brief noted that the film was set to open in 600 theaters nationwide on Memorial Day weekend, the 4 May 1979 DV narrowed the number of venues down to 400.
       Reviews were mixed. While the 19 May 1979 Var called the picture a “lost cause” with “unintentional comic effect,” the 18 May 1979 NYT praised the film’s “crazy vitality,” noting that it took on “serious business” with a sense of amusement.
       On 5 Jan 1983, Var announced that Richert had teamed with former Twentieth Century-Fox vice president Claire Townsend to form the Invisible Studio for the purpose of re-releasing Winter Kills, as well as other Richert films. It reportedly took the Invisible Studio over one year to buy back the distribution rights to Winter Kills, which had been pulled from theaters by Avco Embassy not long after its release to make way for the summer 1979 release of Goldengirl (see entry). Var noted that Winter Kills creditors were still owed approximately $5 million at that time. The reissued version of the film, which featured new theme music during the credits, edits to a scene in the middle of the picture, and an entirely different ending that reflected Richert’s intention for the original release, opened 21 Jan 1983 at Cinema Studio in New York City and 11 Feb 1983 at the Beverly Center Cineplex in Los Angeles, according to a 1 Feb 1983 HR news item. A 28 Mar 1983 HR article noted that Richert paid Avco Embassy $10,000 of the total amount due for distribution deal, $100,000, and the film was scheduled to open nationwide, as well as in Toronto, Canada. Richert told HR that he objected to Avco Embassy marketing the picture in 1979 as “the truth behind the JFK assassination” because it was intended to be “a Lewis Carroll look at big power and politics.” The director also stated that he re-released the film with the desire to finally make good on payments to actors. According to HR, the modified ending did not alter the film from its original version, but Richert told the 1 Feb 1983 HR that the new finale “totally change(d) the first 90 mintues.” The print viewed for the Summary in this record is believed to be Richert's cut, a DVD released in 2003 by Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Jan 1977
---
Box Office
21 Feb 1977
---
Box Office
1 Jan 1979
---
Box Office
4 Jun 1979
---
Daily Variety
24 Aug 1976
---
Daily Variety
28 Feb 1977
---
Daily Variety
13 Dec 1978
---
Daily Variety
4 May 1979
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1979
---
Hollywood Drama-Logue
10-16 Mar 1983
p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter
5 Dec 1975
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 1978
p. 1, 12
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1979
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 1979
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 1983
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 1983
p. 3, 16
LAHExam
10 Jan 1977
---
Los Angeles Magazine
Apr 1977
---
Los Angeles Times
13 May 1979
p. 39
New York
28 May 1979
---
New York Times
17 May 1979
---
New York Times
18 May 1979
p. 7
New York Times
27 May 1979
---
New Yorker
4 Jun 1979
p. 154
Newsweek
4 Jun 1979
p. 76
Palm Beach Post
26 Mar 1981
---
The Times
11 Mar 1985
p. 10
Time
7 Mar 1983
---
Variety
16 Jul 1975
---
Variety
8 Mar 1977
---
Variety
25 Apr 1979
---
Variety
16 May 1979
p. 38
Variety
5 Jan 1983
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Also Starring:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Leonard J. Goldberg-Robert Sterling production in association with Daniel H. Blatt
A William Richert Film
An Avco Embassy Pictures Release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Pete Scoppa
1st asst dir
2d unit dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Gaffer
Key grip
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Addl photog
Best boy
Dolly grip
Best boy
Still photog
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Prod illustrator
Joseph Hurley
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Prop master
Prop coord
Asst prop master
Const foreman
Painter foreman
Propmaker foreman
COSTUMES
Robert de Mora
Costumes
Ward asst
SOUND
Sd mixer
Rerec
Rerec
Sd eff ed
Boom man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Transportation capt
Casting
Casting
Auditor
Prod secy
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Asst to Mr. Richert
Extra casting
Craft service man
Transportation capt
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Winter Kills by Richard Condon (New York, 1974).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 May 1979
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 17 May 1979 in New York City; Los Angeles and New York openings: 18 May 1979
Production Date:
began 13 Dec 1976 in Los Angeles, CA
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Winter Gold Productions, Ltd.
6 August 1979
PA40715
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
97
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25640
SYNOPSIS

On board his millionaire father’s tanker ship, Nick Kegan phones his lover, Yvette Malone, and leaves a message on her answering machine. Just then, a family associate named Keifetz arrives on the ship by helicopter with a man wrapped in bandages. Inside a doctor’s office, the injured man, Arthur Fletcher, mutters a confession as an orderly transcribes; Fletcher assassinated Nick’s half-brother, the President of the United States, on 22 February 1960. Fletcher claims that he and one other gunman were hired by a man named Casper, Jr., for the job, after which Fletcher hid his rifle in Room 903 of the Engleson Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Fletcher did so because he waned to be able to prove that he was the real killer. Nick inquires about Willie Arnold, the assassin who was determined to be the lone gunman by the Pickering Commission. However, Fletcher dies before he can answer so Nick heads to Philadelphia to look for the rifle. At the Engleson Building, Nick uncovers the weapon, but, just as he and his companions prepare to leave, a young woman on a bike rides past their vehicle and pops her gum. In an instant, Nick’s associates are shot dead. Panicked, Nick runs to call his father, Pa Kegan, but instead is connected to John Cerruti, the mastermind behind the Kegan empire. When Nick reports the incident and his whereabouts, Cerruti promises to send help, but the vehicle and the rifle inside are stolen as Nick waits. Sometime later, Nick is chauffeured to Pa Kegan’s desert estate, where he is greeted by the Japanese butler, Keith. Later that evening, Nick ...

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On board his millionaire father’s tanker ship, Nick Kegan phones his lover, Yvette Malone, and leaves a message on her answering machine. Just then, a family associate named Keifetz arrives on the ship by helicopter with a man wrapped in bandages. Inside a doctor’s office, the injured man, Arthur Fletcher, mutters a confession as an orderly transcribes; Fletcher assassinated Nick’s half-brother, the President of the United States, on 22 February 1960. Fletcher claims that he and one other gunman were hired by a man named Casper, Jr., for the job, after which Fletcher hid his rifle in Room 903 of the Engleson Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Fletcher did so because he waned to be able to prove that he was the real killer. Nick inquires about Willie Arnold, the assassin who was determined to be the lone gunman by the Pickering Commission. However, Fletcher dies before he can answer so Nick heads to Philadelphia to look for the rifle. At the Engleson Building, Nick uncovers the weapon, but, just as he and his companions prepare to leave, a young woman on a bike rides past their vehicle and pops her gum. In an instant, Nick’s associates are shot dead. Panicked, Nick runs to call his father, Pa Kegan, but instead is connected to John Cerruti, the mastermind behind the Kegan empire. When Nick reports the incident and his whereabouts, Cerruti promises to send help, but the vehicle and the rifle inside are stolen as Nick waits. Sometime later, Nick is chauffeured to Pa Kegan’s desert estate, where he is greeted by the Japanese butler, Keith. Later that evening, Nick sees his emotionally unstable mother, Emma, and is rebuked by his father for leaving the ship. When Nick reports Fletcher’s confession and the incident in Philadelphia, his father storms away. However, Pa wakes Nick in the morning with a plan to expose the assassination conspiracy. Sometime later, Pa sends Nick to meet his former political rival and one of the richest men in the U.S., Z. K. Dawson. Driving into Dawson’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, ranch, Nick is cornered by WW II tanks. Dawson surfaces from a hatch, arguing that he was not involved with the assassination and implicating the Philadelphia Police Department’s Captain Heller and his sidekick, Ray Doty. On an airplane to New York City, Nick receives a call from Pa, who reports that they no longer have witnesses to Fletcher’s confession; Keifetz was killed and the ship’s orderly broke his neck in a fall. Sometime later, Nick meets Doty, who remembers that the man implicated in Fletcher’s confession, Casper, Jr., was connected to the Philadelphia police through a club owner named Joe Diamond. According to Doty, Diamond bribed Captain Heller for access into the police station so he could kill Willie Arnold after the presidential assassination. Gangster Gameboy Baker arranged the assassination because the president did not return favors for the mafia’s $2 million campaign contribution and Arnold was their scapegoat. Sometime after his meeting with Doty, Nick returns to New York City and makes love to Yvette. In the throes of passion, the young woman agrees to marry him but later retracts her promise, claiming that Nick is more intimate with her answering machine. When Nick returns home to his apartment, he is attacked by his maid, but he gains the upper hand and has her detained. At lunch the next day, Nick asks Yvette to help him track down Diamond through National Magazine, the magazine for which she works. Soon, Yvette directs Nick to a Cleveland, Ohio, diner, where he meets gangster Irving Mentor and bribes him for information. Mentor reports that Casper, Jr., figured in the assassination because he was connected to a Hollywood studio that lost $50 million when one of their stars killed herself over an affair with the president. Just then, the woman who popped her gum before the shootings in Philadelphia brings a dead cat into Mentor’s diner and Nick chases after her as the restaurant explodes. Nick returns to New York City, where Pa debunks Mentor’s story and orders Nick to meet with imprisoned gangster Frank Mayo, who was given special leave for the interview. When Mayo suggests that Nick is being misled, Nick heads to National Magazine headquarters and learns that Yvette is not actually an employee. Later, the doorman at Yvette’s apartment insists that she does not live there. Returning home, Nick finds Keifetz, who admits that he faked his death and encourages Nick to use Cerruti’s intelligence connections to find Yvette. At Pa’s financial headquarters, Cerutti tells Nick that Yvette was kidnapped by Casper, Jr., and recounts a new version of the assassination. According to Cerruti, a Washington, D.C., madam named Lola Comante, who obliged the president’s fondness for sex, offered him a $2 million campaign contribution from Mayo and his mafia associates. When the president discovered that Pa was behind the deal, he ended their relationship, leaving Pa financially and emotionally devastated. Changing the story yet again, Cerruti confesses that he arranged for Nick to meet a fraudulent Z. K. Dawson in Tulsa. The real Dawson and his daughter, Yvette, were the true perpetrators of the assassination; Yvette, formerly known as Maggie Dawson, was the president’s mistress. Nick discounts Cerruti’s story and insists on learning Yvette’s whereabouts. As Nick fractures Cerruti's arms, he breaks down. Cerutti claims that Pa spent millions of dollars to support his son’s presidency because it benefitted him financially, but he was displeased by the president’s liberal politics and had him killed. Pa created an elaborate hoax to confuse Nick, including the employment of an actress named Jenny O’Brien to play the role of Yvette. When Cerruti says that Jenny is "tied up" at Kegan Medical School, Nick leaves to finds her body in the morgue. Sometime later, Nick confronts his father in his office, but Pa claims that Cerruti masterminded the assassination to augment the Kegan coffers and blackmailed Pa into keeping quiet. When Nick attempts to call the police, Keifetz and an officer break into Pa’s office and Nick thinks the men are there to back him up; however, Pa announces that Keifetz is an assassin with orders to kill Nick. Defending himself, Nick grabs the officer and uses his gun to fire at Keifetz, who shoots back at the officer as he dies. Nick chases his father onto the high-rise balcony and finds Pa clinging to the rail of an enormous American flag. As Nick reaches for his father, Pa falls to his death, tearing the flag in half with his body. Nick staggers away, but tells the secretary that he will return because he cannot escape his family ties. Sometime later, Nick calls Yvette’s answering machine to hear her voice one last time.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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