Frank Sinatra broke the little finger of his right hand on the desk in the fight sequence with Henry Silva. Due to ongoing filming commitments, he could not rest or bandage his hand properly, causing the injury to heal incorrectly. It caused him chronic discomfort for the rest of his life.
The topic of the movie was considered politically so highly sensitive it was censored and prohibited just before its theatrical release in many of the former 'Iron Curtain' countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria - and even in neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden. The theatrical premiere for most of those countries was held after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1993.
By his own admission Frank Sinatra's best work always came in the first take. John Frankenheimer always liked the idea of using the freshness of a first take - so nearly all of the key scenes featuring Sinatra are first takes, unless a technical problem prevented them being used.
A scene where Laurence Harvey jumps in Central Park lake was shot on February 12, the coldest day in 30 years. They had to break the foot-thick ice on the lake with a bulldozer before the scene could be shot.
Contrary to popular belief, the film was not pulled from circulation following the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It made its American television debut on The CBS Thursday Night Movies in September 1965 (source: Broadcasting magazine), and was repeated on that network later that season. Only when the rights reverted to Frank Sinatra in 1972 did the film disappear from view, although even then turning up for third and fourth network showings on NBC in spring 1974 (source: TV Guide) and summer 1975 (source: Variety). Sinatra's neglect in keeping the film in distribution gave rise to the legend that it was suppressed because of its alleged role in Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination of the 35th president. The legend was further perpetuated when Sinatra, in alliance with MGM/UA, re-released the film to theaters in 1988. When the rumor was debunked in an article in Films in Review, another myth, one claiming that Sinatra and UA had a dispute about the profits, took its place. The myth survives to this day, but it is pure fiction.
According to George Axelrod, Frank Sinatra had some demands. All his scenes had to be scheduled up front and shot in 15 days. Before he left the set, he announced that he would have to see every bit of footage he was in. John Frankenheimer told him he could see it all except the complex, multi-perspective brainwashing sequence, which had not yet been edited, but Sinatra insisted "in a voice where you felt kneecaps were going to be broken," Axelrod said. To accommodate the star, Axelrod and editor Ferris Webster went through the shooting script and noted where all the cuts should be, then Webster put it together so Sinatra could see it. According to Axelrod, the sequence as cut for that purpose made it into the finished film unchanged.
Famous for his use of innovative camera angles, director John Frankenheimer was widely acclaimed for a shot that is slightly out of focus: Frank Sinatra showing the all-queens deck of cards to Laurence Harvey. Frankenheimer said that rather than the shot being evidence of inspiration, it was an accident and merely the best take for Sinatra. Audiences interpreted it as Shaw's blurred perspective.
United Artists chief Arthur Krim initially wanted nothing to do with the film, calling it "irresponsible an too incendiary." Frank Sinatra then went to President John F. Kennedy, whose 1960 campaign had benefited from the two million dollars Sinatra had reportedly raised. The Chief Executive had loved the book and was interested in who had been cast as the mother. With Kennedy's blessing, Krim withdrew his objections and United Artists agreed to release the film. However, after ten years full release rights would revert back to the production company, M.C. Productions.
In spite of John Frankenheimer's insistence that much of the credit for The Manchurian Candidate's success was due to George Axelrod's writing, the script actually contained very few camera directions. The imaginative depiction of the brainwashing sequence, with its intercutting between different perspectives and fantasies, the playing out of the assassination scene, and such touches as the use of TV screens in the press conference, were all worked out by Frankenheimer.
Janet Leigh found the role of Rosie one of the most difficult she had done because "the character was plunked down in the middle of the script, with no apparent connection to anyone, transmitting non sequiturs while sending meaningful rays through her eyes." But she was proud of her work and credited Frank Sinatra and John Frankenheimer with helping her achieve it.
Prior to the commissioning of the book as a movie, Arthur Krim, then President of United Artists and Finance Chairman of the Democratic Party, is known to have felt uneasy about its subject matter. President John F. Kennedy, as a favor to his friend Frank Sinatra, called Krim to let him know that he had no objection to a film version being made.
The brainwashing sequence was filmed three times in its entirety (the garden club ladies, the black soldier's viewpoint, and the Communist captors) against three different sets constructed so the camera could turn completely around in each. The parts were then edited together to convey the shifting perspectives.
In spite of his reputation, Frank Sinatra turned out to be, for the most part, a hard worker and pleasant and cooperative on the set. John Frankenheimer called him "one of the most charming human beings I have ever met." Janet Leigh was friends with the actor before filming began but still nervous about stories she heard from others who worked with him. She found him to be "a caring, giving actor, willing to rehearse indefinitely, taking direction, contributing ideas to the whole." George Axelrod said he was "a dream to work with" and called him "one of the best screen actors in the world...lyrically sensitive...magic." Most people agreed that Sinatra's attitude could be attributed largely to the fact that he had tremendous respect for his director and enthusiasm for the project.
The scenes of the convention were filmed at the Old Madison Square Garden on 8th ave at 49th street. The last event ever held there was in Febuary 1968. It was torn down shortly after closing and today an office tower stands on the site.
Frank Sinatra told the press he was more excited to do this film than any other he had ever worked on. He was particularly taken with having to say things in the script "I've never had to speak on screen before...long, wild speeches." George Axelrod said he thought it was terrific "to have that marvellous, beat-up Sinatra face giving forth long, incongruous speeches."
The assassination sequence was filmed first over a period of four days in an empty Madison Square Garden in New York with Laurence Harvey walking between vast rows of vacant seats and arriving at the booth high up in the arena. The rest of the sequence was filmed in the far smaller Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles with tight shots of crowds at the fictional convention, edited together to give the impression that the original location was now filled with thousands of people.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In Richard Condon's novel, the relationship between Mrs. Iselin and her son Raymond is more explicitly incestuous, complete with a bed scene. Director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod wanted to include that element, but reduced it to the less-than-motherly kiss that Mrs. Iselin plants on Raymond's lips. To appease the censors, Frankenheimer instructed Angela Lansbury to put her hand between their mouths and the camera during the kiss to obscure what she was doing a bit. By time of Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate (2004), the incestuous content between the mother and son shown on screen had been reduced even more, so that the camera cuts away before she kisses her son on the lips, only leaving the implication of that relationship between them.
Frank Sinatra refers to Orestes and Clytemnestra when he is talking to Laurence Harvey. Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon (King of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Mycenae) who, with her lover Aegisthus, murdered him and took over the throne. Orestes, the son of Clytemnestra, later killed them both.
Though described by Mrs. Iselin as a "a two-piece Soviet Army sniper's rifle" the weapon Raymond Shaw assembling is in reality a Japanese Arisaka Type 99 Type 2 Paratrooper rifle mounted with a low power rifle scope.