Leslie Woodhead’s documentary, which was produced for the Smithsonian Channel, recalls the events of November 22, 1963, in a mature presentation that traces the final hours of John F. Kennedy’s life and the tumult that followed the news of his assassination.
The film plumbs a wealth of rarely-seen newsreel footage on the events leading up to the fatal motorcade ride, including the final speech that Kennedy gave that morning before a breakfast meeting of business leaders in Fort Worth – First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrived late for the event, but her stylish appearance led the president to joke that “nobody cares what Lyndon and I are wearing.”
The film notes there was significant tension in Dallas because of right-wingers’ perceiving the president to be soft of Communism, but the film doesn’t call attention to a racist backlash over the Kennedy efforts to promote civil rights (one piece of newsreel footage shows a blatantly racist placard and a Confederate flag at an anti-Kennedy protest meeting).
Not surprisingly, the much-seen amateur footage taken by spectators of the assassination gets repeated during the production, but the film also includes new interviews with witnesses to the event, including Secret Service agent Clint Hill (the man who jumped on the back of the presidential limousine after the shots rang out) and friends of Lee Harvey Oswald during his residency in the city.
Although the film covers territory that is too familiar to many people, it still manages to resonate with a sense of dread and sorrow over the unprecedented tragedy of that horrible day.