On the 22nd of November 1963 John F. Kennedy, then President of the United States, was shot dead in a successful assassination attempt in Dallas, Texas, and the investigation into what exactly happened began. Almost immediately a suspect was named, who was Lee Harvey Oswald, a worker in the book depository where the authorities claimed the gunshots had come from, but he denied all charges against him. Unfortunately he was never to stand trial, because two days after the President was murdered, Oswald himself was shot dead by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner...
And thus a thousand conspiracy theories were born. But what makes Rush to Judgment so interesting is its proximity to the events, and the subsequent publishing of the official report on what happened according to the Warren Commission. Naturally, as this was no official documentary, director Emile de Antonio and researcher Mark Lane, who presents this film based on his bestselling book, take a somewhat different view to the report and systematically chip away at its findings to prove there was a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts of the assassination as these two filmmakers saw them.
As a production, this leans towards the dry, with a near-endless stream of interviews with witnesses, all of whom back up Lane's opinion that what the American public were told was far from the truth. Yet the gradual accumulation of these facts, straight from the horses' mouths as it were, begins to have a sinister effect of creeping unease, where the version of events the media had been fed, and let's remember were happy to repeat, looks to be standing on very shaky ground. You could argue that if Lane could find his witnesses to put the opposing view then the Warren Commission could easily have uncovered people equally convincing for their report, but that's not the feeling you come away with.
The film begins with archive footage as the police chiefs and district attorney try to put across a coherent assembly of what has happened, so it was understandable that the whole story might have been somewhat muddled, but the interview with the hapless Oswald will have you wishing that Lane had had the chance to quiz him, as there seems to be much he is not getting the opportunity to tell. Then we see his death, the first murder ever shown on American television lest we forget, and the confusion is set off in earnest, although here at least there is some clarity of thought. After this introduction, the questioning is kicked off with some witnesses to the President's killing.
What is really missing here, apart from an outright admission of guilt from whoever really killed JFK, is the Abraham Zapruder footage of the assassination. You get the impression Lane and de Antonio would have leapt upon the most famous home movie of all time like a pack of hungry wolves, as it shows what they have being trying to prove with their interviews, that the shots that killed Kennedy and injured Governor John Connally did indeed come from in front of him and not from the direction of the book depository that Oswald was supposed to have been in at the time, a notion repeated throughout this film. There's even a photograph picturing Oswald in the crowd when he was meant to be committing the murder, and the police officer he was meant to have killed was shot by someone different, according to one witness. By the time the subject has got around to the mysterious deaths of witnesses, never mind that crucial evidence was not presented to the Commision, you may be growing very cynical about the whole affair, which is precisely the effect you imagine the notoriously contrary de Antonio wanted.