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American Politics In the Movies (Wednesdays in September)
Remind Me

Four Days in November

Monday November, 7 2016 at 04:30 AM

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Four Days in November (1964), narrated by Richard Basehart, is a rarely seen but fascinating documentary about the assassination of John F. Kennedy that focuses on that tragic day in Dallas and its aftermath. A combination of television news footage, archival film, still photographs and recreations of locations and events, the film, as assembled by director Mel Stuart, still packs an emotional wallop and conveys a sense of immediacy as if it were happening in the present tense, not thirty-nine years ago. JFK conspiracy buffs, in particular, will find Four Days in November absorbing due to Stuart's almost obsessive attention to detail: We see the inside of Ruth Payne's garage and the rolled rug containing Oswald's rifle; we witness the plane landing at Love Field carrying Kennedy's bubble-top convertible (license plate GG-300); we are shown the marquee at the Texas Theatre where Oswald was apprehended (It was a double feature - Cry of Battle and War is Hell); we meet Oswald's landlady, Earlene Roberts, and view his rented room, almost exactly as he left it. There are even some surprise guest appearances in the film such as Joan Crawford and Richard Nixon (they were attending the same party in Dallas!).

Although the majority of Four Days in November is composed of news feeds, clips from national broadcasts and local Dallas television coverage, Stuart fills in the gaps for what was never captured on film, particularly in the case of Oswald. This explains the opening statement in the credits: "Certain scenes have been recreated in the original locations by the actual participants." So, thanks to this clever concept we get to meet Oswald's office co-worker - Wesley Frazier - who re-enacts their ride together to the Texas Depository on November 22nd, 1963 when Oswald brought along a long wrapped package he said were "curtain rods." William Whaley, the cab driver who picked up Oswald shortly after he fled the Texas Depository, takes us on the same route Oswald traveled that day back to his rooming house. John Brewer, the shoe salesman who encountered Oswald in his store and then saw him enter the Texas Theatre, is featured with his commentary about that fateful day. Yet, despite Stuart's exhaustive investigative approach to the events of that weekend in November, the film is never dull and it makes one wish that other major news stories and historical events could be covered in such an innovative fashion.

Stuart launched his film career with the documentary, The Making of the President (1960) and has directed several non-fiction films over the years like Sophia: A Self-Portrait (1968) and the concert film, Wattstax (1973). However, he also has a gift for light comedy (If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, 1969) and is probably best known for the cult classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), based on Roald Dahl's eccentric novella for children and starring Gene Wilder.

Renown journalist and Texas native John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs, exploitation film host and author of Joe Bob Briggs Goes to the Drive-In) had this to say about Four Days in November: "Since I've spent much of my life in Dallas, and even worked as a journalist in Dallas, I can't ever remember a November the 22nd going by without all kinds of hoopla--articles, and reminiscences, and lame conspiracy theories, and memorial services, and umpteen jillion newspaper columns--and one of the things that has endured over the years is this documentary....It was put together quickly--it came out less than a year after the assassination, and in most cities it was used to commemorate the one-year anniversary of JFK's death. It's called Four Days in November and the curious thing about it is that almost every American has already seen at least 50 per cent of the footage in it, and yet it still has an incredible power, when you see it all in one place....this is a powerful film--much more powerful than JFK (1991) to use a ridiculous example, and really the place you have to start if you're ever gonna understand what the assassination did to the country. Many people think the world was never quite the same after the events of November 22, 1963, and after watching Four Days in November you're liable to agree with 'em."

Producer: Mel Stuart, David L. Wolper
Director: Mel Stuart
Screenplay: Theodore Strauss
Editing: William T. Cartwright
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Narrator: Richard Basehart

by Jeff Stafford



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