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Major Ben Marco is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. He served valiantly as a captain in the Korean war and his Sergeant, Raymond Shaw, even won the Medal of Honor. Marco has a major problem however: he has a recurring nightmare, one where two members of his squad are killed by Shaw. He's put on indefinite sick leave and visits Shaw in New York. Shaw for his part has established himself well, despite the misgivings of his domineering mother, Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin. She is a red-baiter, accusing anyone who disagrees with her right-wing reactionary views of being a Communist. Raymond hates her, not only for how she's treated him but equally because of his step-father, the ineffectual U.S. Senator John Iselin, who is intent on seeking higher office. When Marco learns that others in his Korean War unit have nightmares similar to his own, he realizes that something happened to all of them in Korea and that Raymond Shaw is the focal point. Written by
Manchurian Candidate is, quite simply, the best political thriller of all time. I can't think of another that keeps me on the edge of my seat, even on the tenth viewing. The incredible script, Angela Lansbury's Dearest Mommy, the effective use of black & white film for a movie about issues that were anything but black & white--I could go on and on.
I know that most people rave about Ms. Lansbury above all the other cast members, but--for me--Frank Sinatra wins the prize hands down. His disbelief, and then his disillusionment, and then his despair are perfectly portrayed. There were really two Sinatras, the singer AND the great actor.
In watching The Manchurian Candidate again and again, I never cease to be amazed at its prescient theme, the danger of the combination of fanaticism and patriotic fervor. Goldwater's famous quote comes to mind, "Extremism in the defense of virtue is no vice". In my opinion, this film just gets better with age.
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