Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman moves back into the house with her new husband. However, he has a secret which he will do anything to protect, even if that means driving his wife insane.
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
In joke: During the prologue set in 1952, one of the bar girls reads an old movie magazine with a cover shot of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who plays the female lead in this film. See more »
Shaw's and Marco's journeys through Central Park do not accurately reflect the real layout of the famous park. See more »
[the presidential nominee is making his acceptance speech while Raymond Shaw has his sniper-rifle aimed at him]
Benjamin K. Arthur:
...Nor would I ask of any fellow American in defense of his freedom that which I would not gladly give myself - my life before my liberty!
[the audience begins clapping and cheering as Raymond Shaw moves his sniper-rifle towards Senator Iselin and shoots him in the forehead, killing him instantly. He then shoots his mother in the head, killing her instantly]
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All by itself it raises my opinion of everyone involved.
Wow! I was expecting right wing propaganda, or possibly even (a distant outside chance) left wing propaganda: I certainly wasn't expecting THIS. It isn't propaganda at all. Deriving any kind of message at all from the film is difficult - one might be tempted to conclude that we ought to never trust people who cry cheap political insults like "communist!" or "fascist!" or "racist!" at the first opportunity, but that's just a thought. At any rate, in order to get a message we have to think about the story for ourselves, very carefully, which makes it the very opposite of propaganda.
Here's another bit of advice: don't make the mistake, as I did, of thinking now and then that Frankenheimer is drifting from the point. He knows exactly what he's doing at all times. Whenever it seems he's offering some interesting diversion from the main story he's really telling the main story by other means. How good the story is I cannot convey without saying too much. Probably the central conceit everyone knows already, which was why Frankenheimer was right to spill most of the beans as soon as possible - but he does has one or two in reserve. One great thing about the story is that it doesn't rely at all on us thinking it likely.
Everyone, from composer to cameraman, did a fine job, and the cast does an even finer one. Angela Lansbury gives the performance of her life. Frank Sinatra I had never seen in a movie before, and I was surprised to discover that he can act - very well, too. It permeates down to the minor roles. Leslie Parrish as the charming innocent is certainly charming, but also subtle. "The Manchurian Candidate" would easily be the best of its kind even if it weren't the only of its kind.
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