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John Frankenheimer's surrealistic direction and George Axelrod's adaptation
of the 1959 book by the same name offer Laurence Harvey a career defining
Set in 1950's, A Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw(Harvey) returns home to a medal of honor for rescuing his POW platoon from behind Chinese lines and back to safety. One of the returning soldiers, (played effectively by Frank Sinatra) however, has recurring dreams of his platoon being brainwashed and Shaw committing acts of murder.
He eventually convinces army brass that Shaw is still a puppet of his Communist-Marxist operators.
Angela Lansbury, (although barely a few years older than Harvey was at the time) plays his mother in a tour de force role. She absolutely captivates and steals every scene she is in, playing a very complex role that needs to convince the viewer of many things without much dialogue.
There's a rich cast of characters, including Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, James Edwards, and a painfully accurate James Gregory. Each character weaves through the methodical subplots and tapestry of Frankenheimer's masterful "Hitchcockian" pace.
I won't give away the plot, but dear readers, allow me to sat that this one is really worth watching--until the nail-biting and chilling conclusion.
There are many undertones in this film -- political, sexual, class and power, and social. You will want to view this film several times to approach it from different perspectives.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By the dawn of the 60s America had not been through with McCarthy-ism,
the Korean War, and Communist witch hunts when it was already aiming
towards a Cold War situation and ultimately, Vietnam. So much plays
into this movie which came out at exactly the right time and place that
even years later, layers of subtext can be garnered from its paranoiac,
Power is a deadly thing to deal with, especially when it falls into the hands that should have it the least, and the word seems to dominate every angle of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE like a glowing ball of fire. The power to control minds and bend them to darker wills. The power to control the people into believing what the powers-that-be want. The power to demolish anything or anyone considered an even remote obstacle. The power to seize power, extend it outward, blindly, into a waiting globe.
And so does this disturbing, dark tale of the search for power in the political world takes place, with some of the most indelible images ever transferred onto the face of cinema. Frankenheimer amps up the paranoia already oozing from the story and with some truly nightmarish sequences brings forth a Creation that always seems like it will disclose some hideous, unseen force playing behind the scene -- the deceptive hydrangea scene at the beginning of the movie and the train scene where a shaken Sinatra meets Leigh who seems to be sincere are two very uneasy sequences to follow through, for example, because both disorient and succeed in sticking needles of doubt into your mind in more ways than one. You know something is completely wrong here and what lies beneath is always unsettling than what is eventually uncovered.
This is a character study as well as a political satire: while there is plenty of tension throughout, deep characterizations come through, and needless it is to me to state Angela Lansbury's terrifying performance as Mrs. Iselin, or Laurence Harvey's chilling portrait of a non-entity, a victim and a puppet who's design is to serve as a killing machine and a false hero. Much can be also said of Janet Leigh's Rosie, since her part suggests she also knows and is more than what she reveals, but sadly the film drops what might have been an interesting side story from the moment she appears on the train and talks in that coded language. It seems she only serves to be Sinatra's "controller." As for Sinatra himself, he's an asset and a weakness. He's too old to be Laurence Harvey's equal in combat, and his persona often comes through, but he does tune in a measured performance as the damaged General Marco.
MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is one of those stories that detail the loss of innocence in America (with its killing of the more honest Senator Thomas Jordan and his almost pure daughter Josie, done without music, but in two long takes) and its transition to a super-power bent on political domination, and it chills to the bone to see it still today, 42 years later.
There are parts of The Manchurian Candidate that are so perceptive and
prophetic that it can be shocking. The satire of political campaigns and the
influence of political wives feels very fresh. The film is also an excellent
spy thriller and foretells the many political assassinations in the 60's.
There are many fine performances in the film and Angela Lansbury plays one
of the best film villains I have seen. Also, the directing, cinematography
and editing are terrific.
My problems with the film mainly stem from its dialogue. The script repeats lines from the book the film was based upon. The result is that the actor's lines are very often stilted and not believable. Other less important problems involve Lawrence Harvey who while he gives a fine performance needed a dialogue coach. He begins the film with an American accent and slowly takes on a English one. The Janet Leigh character is also troubling. It seems she is a Soviet agent but this is not explained. Her character is too subtle and clashes with the very straight forward presentation of the rest of the film.
The flaws of The Manchurian Candidate would sink a lesser film. But when this movie hits its stride it is so powerful that it rises above its drawbacks and remains a classic spy thriller.
Probably John Frankenheimer's best production, and Frank Sinatra's best
I saw this because of the recent 'remake', I would assume that the reader will be making the same comparison. Having never seen this before, I found myself riveted to the story, and absolutely great performances by Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, John McGiver, James Gregory, and Leslie Parrish.
Coincidently, I had just recently finished reading some previously published works about the cold war, in particular the Chambers-Hiss court cases.
It might be accident, but I wouldn't doubt it might have been intended by Frankenheimer to choose Harvey, who resembled Hiss, in appearance and McGiver who resembled Chambers appearance. When this was released in 1962, the Hiss-Chambers spy fiasco was still fresh in the public's mind.
Other American political images are not for want of satire either, since Lansbury and Gregory seemed to have reminded me, in appearance, of Mary and (honest) Abe Lincoln.
The pace, style and non stop tension rivals Hitchcock; it will certainly have you wondering if he had anything to do with this! Truly Frankenhiemer, excels here.
Because Sinatra was box office magnet, most of his other roles seemed 'fitted' for him. Not here! You'll have a chance to see the real Frank Sinatra, really working to make the part work, and without a doubt, he too excels in his role.
I don't think I'll bother to see the recent version yet. I want to see this original classic a few more times.
Wow! I was expecting right wing propaganda, or possibly even (a distant
outside chance) left wing propaganda: I certainly wasn't expecting THIS.
isn't propaganda at all. Deriving any kind of message at all from the
is difficult - one might be tempted to conclude that we ought to never
people who cry cheap political insults like "communist!" or "fascist!" or
"racist!" at the first opportunity, but that's just a thought. At any
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Intense Cold War era masterpiece that seems to grow bolder and more intelligent with age. A group of U.S. soldiers are captured one night during the Korean War in 1952. Next thing the group remembers is arriving home with Laurence Harvey (one of the troops) being given the Medal of Honor for some unknown reason. He immediately decides to go to New York City to get away from his over-protective mother (Oscar nominee Angela Lansbury) and her senator husband (a solid turn by character actor James Gregory). But nothing is quite what it seems. Harvey, obviously with no experience in journalism, becomes involved with a publication that is sympathetic with Communist propaganda. Meanwhile several other soldiers from Harvey's battalion (commanding officer Frank Sinatra in particular) start to have disturbing dreams where the group is in a room during a dull women's meeting where the main topic of discussion is botany. Flashes occur however where the women actually become Korean and Russian delegates that are all listening to a crazed doctor (Khigh Dhiegh) who is discussing brainwashing techniques and total mind manipulation through various kinds of hypnosis. The dreams are rough and frightening. It seems that Sinatra has a rare form of war fatigue, but there is no way to explain how others are having similar night-time delusions. As he tries to cope he falls in love with the beautiful Janet Leigh and they start to have a relationship. Eventually Sinatra begins to put the jagged pieces together just as Harvey becomes serious with a beautiful young woman (Leslie Parrish) whose father (John McGiver) happens to be one of Gregory's main obstacles to a possible vice presidential nomination in the next national election. Who is really controlling everything from the inside and what is Harvey's main purpose for being brainwashed? Richard Condon's paranoid novel comes to life vividly in a truly outstanding motion picture. Screenwriter George Axelrod's adaptation keeps the momentum of the book at a fevered pitch throughout. Director John Frankenheimer (only 32 at the time) completed the one film that he would always be remembered for. His career honestly had a lot more lows than highs, but his full potential as a first-class film-maker is easy to recognize here. The performances are top-notch with Lansbury (actually only three years older than Harvey) doing the best work of her career (albeit in a somewhat small role). Laurence Harvey's tortured character is also a sight to behold. It is an immensely interesting role that keeps the whole production glued together. Harvey, an actor I really never thought had much talent, proves that when everything else is working well that he can be a reputable performer. And of course Sinatra is solid as he always was throughout a film career that hit its peak from about 1950 through 1965. Once again he adds a certain depth and an amazing complexity to an already rich role. Smart, stylish, at times nasty and always impressive, "The Manchurian Candidate" is one of those pictures that continues to be a fixture in the American cinema as time goes by. 5 stars out of 5.
The picture that introduced sleeper agents to film, 'The Manchurian Candidate' is a classic political thriller that still remains as intriguing as it was 52 years ago. Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Oscar-nominee Angela Lansbury, 'The Manchurian Candidate' is an outstanding and unparalleled thriller set in the midst of the Cold War, a tale of politics, family, distress and guilt with flawless direction from Frankenheimer. A benchmark of American cinema, 'The Manchurian Candidate' is a film that is is not only a timeless political thriller but also a satire of American history and propaganda.
I went into "The Manchurian Candidate" without knowing too much about the
movie itself. I knew about its critical acclaim, but I was unfamiliar with
the plot. Regardless, when I rented and watched the film, I had high
expectations. I was not disappointed either.
The plot revolves around the strange case of Raymond Shaw, a sergeant who wins the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in the cold war. Two of the men in his company, however, have strange nightmares that suggest Raymond is not as deserving of the award as he seems. One of these men, Major Bennet Marco, led on by these recurring nightmares, unravels a sinister Communist plot. Set against the cold war paranoia of the sixties and McCarthyism, "The Manchurian Candidate" does an excellent job of recreating the intense suspense and tension of the time.
The acting in this film is superb. A great script is heightened by excellent acting in this movie. It's hard not to like Frank Sinatra in his role as Marco, who is the protagonist. Laurence Harvey as Raymond does a good job showing us a character that is wholly unlikable and snobby, yet pathetic and sad at the same time. And of course, Angela Lansbury in her role as Raymond's malicious and plotting mother is excellent.
Some stand-out scenes in the film were the nightmare sequences that brilliantly interlaced dream and reality, the all-queen solitaire game with Marco and Raymond, and the supremely tense climax at the political convention. The cinematography in the movie was very well done as action, romance, and tension all mixed together smoothly. All the scenes managed to keep my attention and kept me wondering what was going to happen next. As a thriller, the film works remarkably well, and it is quite easily the best political thriller I've seen to date.
Keeping me from giving the movie a perfect ten are one or two little nagging problems. I wasn't a big fan of the music for the movie, and it even disrupted the mood for me at one point in the film. It was okay, just not great. Also, the whole plot is sort of unlikely. I wont go into it here, but I don't think that the Communist plan for world domination would fall into the hands of one relatively uncontrolled person, no matter how well trained his mind was. That's just my opinion, however.
The movie is sort of long, and isn't exactly action packed, but it is very interesting, insightful, and even chilling. I had a great time watching it, and I definitely recommend it if you are interested at all in seeing a gripping Cold War era political thriller. Besides, the cultural relevance of the film alone is enough to see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember seeing The Manchurian Candidate as a teen back in the day in
theaters. Good thing I saw it too because after the Kennedy
assassination it was withdrawn from circulation. I then got to see it
again in the theater when it got a re-premiere back in the late
For those who believe that conspiracies control the world, this film is for you. The ultra-right has a game plan to take over, the international communist conspiracy is given life and credence in this film and there's one character here who's got a conspiracy to beat all.
When The Manchurian Candidate first came out the theater owners were instructed not to seat anyone if they came after the first 10 minutes of the film. If you buy the video or DVD, fast forward it about 10 minutes and try to pick it up from there. It won't make any sense, I guarantee.
A platoon led by Captain Frank Sinatra and Sergeant Lawrence Harvey is betrayed by their Korean guide, Henry Silva, and captured by Chinese Communists. They are flown to Manchuria where Russian scientists from the Pavlov Institute experiment with revolutionary techniques in the newly developed science of brainwashing. Minus two men who are killed, the patrol is taken back to Korea where all of them have been implanted with a story about how Harvey saved the rest of them and led them back through enemy lines to UN lines.
As for Harvey, he's the one who actually killed the two soldiers and he is now a brainwashed assassin ready to do the bidding of his handlers.
Harvey is the son of Angela Lansbury who is in a role that's ten galaxies from Jessica Fletcher. She's the rich wife who is the brains and money behind her second husband James Gregory. Gregory is a Joe McCarthy like Senator who is forever yelling about Communists in every nook and cranny. He's a buffoon, but he's actually not aware of how right and how organized they are in The Manchurian Candidate.
Gregory and director John Frankenheimer caught one aspect of McCarthy's persona in his role. McCarthy never took any of this seriously. There are many stories about him performing for the TV cameras and the press and when they were away offering to buy a round of drinks for the same person he might have been denouncing as a traitor minutes earlier. The difference between McCarthy in real life and Gregory in this film is that McCarthy had no manager and no real ambitions other than to retain his Senate seat. Gregory if anything is managed.
Frank Sinatra in having The Manchurian Candidate withdrawn robbed fans of one of his best screen performances. Only in one scene when he refers to someone as a 'cat' does he slip into the hipster Rat Pack image. Sinatra is the one who starts to unravel everyone's plans because of the recurring dreams he's having about what really happened in Korea.
On the way to New York to question Harvey about it, Sinatra meets Janet Leigh who really doesn't have a role crucial to the story, but functions as an Alfred Hitchcock type cool blond. With what little she has to do, Leigh does well.
Lawrence Harvey is the key here. He's really a weakling and that's the key to the story. He was carefully chosen to be the manipulated assassin because of his inability to break from Mom's iron grip.
Of course there have been few screen moms as evil as Angela Lansbury. She and Gregory really own this film and Angela blows everyone else off the screen when she's on.
For her mesmerizing performance I recommend The Manchurian Candidate.
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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