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
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. See more »
Long shots of the convention floor use stock footage from different conventions, with delegates' placards sometimes white, sometimes black. See more »
Senator Iselin is not my father. Repeat: he is not my father. If you learn nothing else on your visit to this country, memorize that fact.
See more »
Every movie lover will enjoy this masterpiece about masterminds... it's in the cards...
It's not the most memorable moment of "The Manchurian Candidate" but it is too delightfully and subversively goofy to be ignored: an inebriated Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), disguised as Abraham Lincoln, is dancing the limbo, George Washington would rap in a Simpsons' episode but that was three decades later, here we're in 1962 and the film's statement about politics isn't just ahead of its time but also plays like a stinging retort to all the patriotic, flag-brandishing and crowd-pleasing Capra messes that anaesthetized the masses.
To be fair, Capra also highlighted the corrupting effect of political ambition, but the Iselins would have convinced Mr. Smith to emigrate to Argentina. "The Manchurian Candidate" doesn't just satirize politics, it writes as words of Gospel that power in politics isn't a mean but an end, which means that the right and left distinction is rather sterile, the whole point is to reach power by denigrating the enemy and brainwashing the masses. Under the armor of apparent cynicism, the script, brilliantly written by George Axelrod, fabricates its own alibi. When you have a demagogue using the Red Scare to intimidate his adversaries and his mastermind wife implicated in a real communist conspiracy, say what you want but it's a fair trade.
On that political level only, the film is a triumph of writing, so ahead of its time it was deemed prophetic a day of November 1963. And that's something no one could ever foresee, not director George Frankenheimer, not the screenwriter George Axelrod, not Robert Condon who wrote the original novel and not Frank Sinatra who was rumored to have limited the diffusion of the film in respect to Kennedy's memory. It would be hard to imagine that the film inspired the assassination, but it did nourish the wildest theories about Lee Harvey Oswald being an agent of the Soviet, if not brainwashed like Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) in Manchuria, but being manipulated with extreme prejudice.
In our world where Internet became a beehive of conspiracy theorists, it's not difficult to grasp the appeal of a movie like "The Manchurian Candidate", it is not just modern by today's standards, but it's disconcertingly relevant. And yet; this a movie of many, many layers on brilliances and the political aspect isn't even the showiest one. In fact, I'm only going to quote the tag-line, "If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won't know what it's all about! When you've seen it all, you'll swear there's never been anything like it!". Indeed, I can think of a thousand movies like "The Manchurian Candidate", but none of them preceding it.
The statement about missing the five minutes is also true, in a subtler way. The first minutes aren't about the operation that get the whole platoon knocked out with the complicity of the interpret (Henry Silva), the point is to show that Raymond Shaw is the one who doesn't have fun and even in the next scene, warmth isn't his strongest suit as he doesn't display it either with his parents. Granted the poor man's McCarthy is only his stepfather (as he loves to mention) but she's his mother! Yet the perpetually malcontent is awarded the Medal of Honor, recommended by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and is described by everyone as the "warmest, bravest, most charming man they ever met".
They all repeat the same expression and all have the same dream involving a mysterious demonstration session lead by Chinese people and showing the "bravest and warmest" man casually executing two soldiers. It's not much the killing that is disturbing than the fact that it involves the two who didn't make it. If Shaw did kill, he didn't let it exude from his attitude and with good reason, as he was not only programmed to kill, but to never remember that he did. Shaw couldn't pass as a guilty man because he would know it himself. The programming is brilliant and brilliantly displayed through a mix of dream sequences and solitaire games where the Queen of Diamonds play like action-buttons.
The directing and the visual symbolism is so straight-forward that we never perceive it as surrealism, the film maintains a very straight and legitimate aspect despite a few creative digressions that could have been borrowed from Hitchcock, which encompasses an atmosphere of suspicion where every moment of awkwardness can be rightfully or wrongfully suspected. When the interpret wants to be hired as Shaw's cook, our suspect-radar is engaged but when Sinatra meets Janet Leight on the train, the dialogue is so bizarre that we suspect something codified behind. We'll never know but we sure wouldn't have remembered the scene had they exchanged banalities.
In the end, there's also this constant feeling of an impending doom all through the film, anyone can be a spy, a mind-controller, an evil force, and this is where "The Manchurian Candidate" gets its ticket to cinematic posterity. Indeed, for all the malevolent forces it inhabits, forcing a man to commit murders, one of them being pretty hardcore for the time of the film, or the level of corruption that shows absolutely no regard for the dignity of human beings, for all the bad guys who populate it with their sinister smiling face, the bigger bad of all comes from one woman. As the evil and domineering Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin, not the woman behind the great man, but THE "great man" of the whole scheme, Angela Lansbury portrayed one of the most iconic villains of history, a woman who knows no bounds when it comes to satisfy her selfish impulses. She's so creepy that it's not just the way she hates that is disturbing, but the way she loves, too.
In a movie that goes so far in terms originality, we're not even shocked by Mrs. Iselin's behavior, we're just fascinated. And what I said could apply for the whole film.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this