Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. He served valiantly as a captain in the Korean war and his Sergeant, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), 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 (Angela Lansbury). 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 (James Gregory), 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 ... Written by
Still one of the finest movies of its genre, this original film version of "The Manchurian Candidate" features excellent atmosphere, memorable characters, and a first-rate cast. John Frankenheimer's direction shows a very good understanding of the material and its potential, and indeed it is a rare example of a top quality movie being made from an average novel, rather than the other way around.
Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey carry the bulk of the movie, as former members of the same military unit in Korea, who slowly learn the truth about their shared past. Both give fine performances, with Sinatra's character perpetually nervous and fearful of what he will find, yet compelled to get at the truth, while Harvey as Sergeant Shaw is coldly self-composed, and contemptuous of anyone else's weakness.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Angela Lansbury's icy presence as Shaw's mother is unforgettable, Janet Leigh makes an intriguing woman of mystery, and James Gregory is flawless as a pestilential, brainless Senator. Khigh Dhiegh also has some fine moments of refined cruelty as evil mastermind Yen Lo.
Some of the finest scenes come from the dream sequences, which are crafted very well from a technical viewpoint, and which also ring true with the story as it comes out. They produce some chilling moments, as well as making the plot concept - which in itself is pretty far- fetched - seem more believable.
With the passage of time and the dissolution of Cold War tensions, it's now possible to watch this without any political baggage, and to allow the excellent production to stand on its own high quality, rather than on any contemporary sentiments.
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