"Although much of this film is fiction, much of it is also based on documented historical fact. Did the conspiracy we describe actually exist? We do not know. We merely suggest that it could have existed."
Released ten years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, nine years after the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and six months after the nationally televised Senate hearings on Watergate began, Executive Action theorizes that a conspiracy of industrialists plotted and carried out the murder of the President of the United States. Crisply presented, confidently straightforward and refreshingly free of melodrama, Executive Action delivers a thick slice of paranoia without resorting to hysteria.
Burt Lancaster stars as James Farrington. He leads a discussion (dated June 5, 1963) among a small group of white men intended to convince wealthy conservative oil magnate Harold Ferguson (Will Geer) of the need to kill Kennedy. Ferguson, with his white hair, white suit and Southern drawl, plays Devil's advocate, shooting holes in the worst case scenarios presented ("Kennedy will lead a Black revolution [and] withdraw from Vietnam, leaving Asia to the Communists") and expressing reservations ("I understand these things. They're tolerable only if they're necessary, and permissible only if they work"), but it's not made clear why his involvement is thought so important -- did they need his money? They seem well-funded without him.
Farrington is an old hand at running "black ops" and has two teams of marksmen training in the field, headed by William Watson and Ed Lauter. (Dick Miller plays one of the sharpshooters.) Robert Foster (Robert Ryan, who died a few months before the film's release) appears to be in charge of the operation, taking time to explain the racist spin of the conspiracy to Farrington. The real problem, Foster says, is the swarming numbers of people throughout the earth, especially the browns and blacks. Once the world's over-population is reduced, attention can be turned to America's own over-population ("blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, poverty-prone Whites, and so forth"). As chilling as anything is Foster's matter of fact referral to genocide.