The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
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As much as I love Janet Leigh, she was handed a bizarre and somewhat minor role here which I believe only served as a deliberate distraction in that she never influenced Major Marco (Sinatra) as an agent working on either side. And don't get sidetracked by the fact that "Pinocchio" was playing at the Manhattan movie theater that she and Major Marco passed in the cab because that was probably a deliberate "red herring" too. Granted that Leigh and Tony Curtis, including their sensational divorce, were quite the rage at the time, but Angela deserved top billing here.
When I read that Lansbury has only appeared in 54 full length movies to date, it seemed like a number too small only because she leaves such a strong impression in so many of her performances dating back to Nancy, the maid, in "Gaslight" and Sybil in "The Picture of Dorian Grey". To this day, I am haunted by the memory of poor Sybil singing "Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird" in the latter. Lansbury masters a wide range of effective acting from the kindly, unassuming Miss Marple to the powerful, detestable Eleanor Shaw Iselin here.
In addition to a towering Lansbury, the excellent portrayals by Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, John McIver, Henry Silva, and James Gregory as the annoying buffoon of a step-father contribute to the success of this political thriller. I think that director John Frankenheimer and screenplay writer George Axelrod should be commended for staying close to Richard Condon's original novel, and the stark black and white photography enhanced the gloomy and ominous atmosphere. The filming of the three separate interpretations of the brainwashing sequence alone was a unique and unforgettable cinematic experience.
What a dish like Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish) ever saw in Raymond Shaw is beyond me, and we have surely witnessed Harvey as the dark, brooding character before ("Room at the Top", "Butterfield Eight", etc.), but who else could play this morose character more accurately?
As to that newspaper headline "Violent Hurricane Sweeps Midwest", did you folks in the Midwest ever experience a direct hurricane? I know about the tornadoes and the floods, but a direct hurricane? Was that another subtle attempt at humor by the director? Anyway, I'll never look at another hydrangea without much trepidation and dread.
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.
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 of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The screenplay by George Axelrod (based on the book by Richard Condon) seems busy at first but it concludes perfectly in three successive scenes at the end - all of them perfectly executed and edge-of-your-seat thrilling.
The first is between Harvey and Sinatra. It is a perfect wrap-up of all that happened during their war imprisonment.
The second is between Harvey and Angela Lansbury who portrays his mother, an anti-Communist viper whose extreme ambitions are forced onto her husband (Raymond's stepfather), a dupe of a U.S. Senator. (Back in those days, politically ambitious women - both good and not so good - could not have their own careers so they had to manipulate and groom a man in their place.) As Lansbury uncovers more truth in this scene, she is chilling - not just for the information she reveals but the shocking way she delivers it.
The final grand conclusion takes place at a presidential nomination convention at Madison Square Garden . The brilliant use of a crowd scene adds further thrill to an event that is even more shocking than the scenes that precede this one. Despite knowing the conclusion, my heart was pounding before the grand event. This scene alone shows the true mettle of director John Frankenheimer who has done a great job overall. (Another great scene is the brainwashing scene at the beginning.)
Among the performances, Sinatra is great as the hero while Harvey is peerless as someone whose mind doesn't fully belong to him. Yet even in this great company, Lansbury stands out.
Directing by John Frankenheimer
Acting (in a supporting role) by Angela Lansbury
Another aside, Angela Lansbury 'cut her teeth' for this role playing the ruthless newspaper owner in the Tracy-Hepburn film State of the Union. In that film she managed to upstage Hepburn herself! And it was obvious that she should play the 'biggest, baddest mother of all'.
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.
Said brainwashing scene, where we see exactly to what extent the Communist enemy have control over Lawrence Harvey's character, is brilliantly written, edited and filmed, the deaths of the two unsuspecting troop members, as devastating to watch as they are seemingly casual to commit. Even more transfixing later on is Raymond's double-slaying of his new father-in-law, where a spilling milk carton stands in for the bloodletting of Thomas Jordan and immediately afterwards the unthinking slaughter of the latter's daughter Traci, his own wife, as he stands over the prostrate father, caught in the horrific act of delivering the kill shot to the head.
Yes, coincidence plays a big part in proceedings, like Raymond's love for the daughter of his detested mother's political nemesis Jordan or Traci's wearing of the trigger-point queen of hearts dress to a fancy dress ball but these are easily excused especially with the back story echoing the rise of the McCarthy communist witch-hunt. Incredible to think that such a vulgar, loud-mouthed buffoon as Johnny Iresden could get so close to the White House, or is it...?
Of course it helps that the acting is so consistently good by all the cast members. Sinatra as the main starring name holds the film together with a commanding performance and Harvey is brilliant as the distant but disturbed Raymond and of course, Angela Lansbury is unforgettably cast against type as the devious and devilish would-be power behind the throne as Raymond's mother and Johnny's wife. However even the casting of lesser characters is spot-on as are their performances all of which helps keep the film grounded and credible as it progresses.
This particular film is one of my dad's favourites and he's rarely wrong is my old dad. It's one of mine too and a film that repays repeat viewings. I don't rule out watching it again sometime in the future so good is it.
The other surprise is how potent this still is, even at the 55 year mark. Maybe that's because I lobe '70s movies of the genre, but even still, this is a highly effective political thriller. And that's due in large part to Frankenheimer's skilled direction and a script full of inventive deceit. It even has plenty of time to skewer McCarthyism. Almost everything seen here has been done since, but you're still left unprepared for that one last plot twist. Well-executed, to say the least.
The cast is star-studded, the story's engrossing and there's almost a playful sense of humor to it.
Part of what makes the film so successful is, perhaps paradoxically, the fact its based on a novel. Having read Condon's original novel a couple of years ago and then coming back to the film a couple of times subsequently, it is amazing to see how much of it makes its way into the film. It's not just brushstrokes that make their way in but entire scenes with large portions of dialogue presented with little edits made to them (the much discussed first scene between Marco and Rosie is a prime example). Even some of the costuming choices are drawn straight from Condon's novel. Scriptwriter George Axelrod is able to take the dark comedy of Condon's novel and put it into what is essentially a thriller that satirizes the McCarthyism of the previous decade and makes it all work together. Not everything makes it into the film of course but much of what makes the film memorable (the plot and dialogue especially) is owed to its source material and the wise decision of Axelrod in keeping as much of it as possible.
Axelrod's script is only part of what makes The Manchurian Candidate the film that it is. Part of it is, of course, the cast. Frank Sinatra was a solid choice for the role of Major Marco who finds himself first facing a potential phantom from his past before realizing that he, and the country he serves, is facing a much larger threat. Laurence Harvey was likewise a good choice for the always odd and never quiet normal Raymond Shaw whom is at the center of the film's plot. Though given a top credit, Janet Leigh's Eugenie Rose Chaney actually doesn't have much to do in the film except perhaps be a romantic foil for Sinatra and a bit of a red herring but Leigh shines in what scenes she does have thanks to her chemistry with Sinatra. The supporting cast is solid as well from James Gregory as the bombastic McCarthy like Senator Iselin to John McGiver as his rival Senator Jordan with Henry Silva, Khigh Dheigh, and Albert Paulsen in roles of varying villainy. There is one other name that needs to be mentioned though.
Because, perhaps oddly, the real star of the film is credited fourth in the film's title sequence. Angela Lansbury's performance as Raymond's mother has become something legendary and not without good reason. Despite being not much older than Harvey was when the film was made and made to look the part thanks to what must have been some excellent make-up, Lansbury was perfect casting for the role. For those who only know her from Murder, She Wrote will be in for a shock as they see the same often quiet determination give in to bouts of conniving manipulation across much of the film's running time. Mrs. Iselin is the power behind the throne, quietly moving pieces around while those around her (namely her senator husband and son Raymond) take the credit. Yet few things will prepare the unsuspecting viewer for the revelations that pile up towards the end of the film including a scene that is every bit as recoiling now as it must have been in 1962. It is no surprise that she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as it still stands as one of cinema's greatest villains.
Last but definitely not least, are those behind the camera. The stark black and white cinematography of Lionel Lindon serves the film well with its neo-noir feel that uses shadows and interesting angles to suggest how 'off' things often are. That is especially true when combined with the editing of Ferris Webster and when the two are combined during the film's lecture scenes or with the climactic sequence at the convention, the results are truly stunning. Director John Frankenheimer brought together a fine team to help him bring Condon's novel to the screen and his work on the film stands as among the best of his long career and there is little doubt that it stands up so well as a result of his work.
All of this combines to make The Manchurian Candidate both an excellent thriller and a fine film. From Axelrod's adaptation of Condon's idiosyncratic novel right down to its dialogue, the performances of the entire cast, and the direction of Frankenheimer, the film is a masterclass on how to adapt a novel to the screen faithfully and yet tell a tense and utterly enthralling story at the same time. It's no wonder that it has become not just a touchstone for films but in the culture at large for it is simply a well made and enjoyable piece of work ever after fifty-five years.
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.
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.
Like Alfred Hitchcock, Frankenheimer manages to create tension with everyday stuff (a solitaire game has never looked so unsettling), depicting a bizarre yet utterly realistic conspiracy (the nightmare sequence and the shocking climax are breathtaking and impossible to forget). He also directs an amazing actor-threesome: Sinatra is perfectly convincing as Marco, and Angela Lansbury is... well, just perfect! But it's Harvey who deserves more attention: he's chillingly superb as the conflicted, almost android-like Raymond...
New to Frankenheimer, conspiracy flicks or great '60s thrillers? The Manchurian Candidate is an excellent way to begin the acquaintance.
No, I suppose if you think about it the plot isn't very realistic. But the suspense doesn't give you a chance to contemplate that.
Watch it. You'll enjoy it.
Admittedly, "The Manchurian Candidate" is basically a Red Scare movie, but it's different in that it doesn't simply follow the silly story of the Commies invading a Norman Rockwell-style town. The movie's focus is what the audience doesn't know. Not to mention the top-notch performances from Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury and John McGiver. Interestingly, the 2004 remake actually managed to be as good as the original. Ten out of ten.
The story begins in a Chinese Communist indoctrination camp as an officer demonstrates how thoroughly he has indoctrinated a group of American POWs from the Korean War. Then, suddenly, the scene changes to America years later. The brainwashed prisoners are now home and have no idea that their minds were changed. I'd say more, but don't want to ruin the suspense. All I really want to say is that Angela Lansbury does NOT play a nice character like "Mrs. Potts" in this film. In fact, she is at her most evil and amazing. Additionally, Frank Sinatra has one of his finest on-screen performances in this amazing film. It's a must-see--it's THAT good!
This is yet another amazing drama from director John Frankenheimer. See this and try some of his other brilliant films such as SEVEN DAYS IN MAY and SECONDS.
I know that most people rave about Ms. Lansbury above all the other cast members, but--for me--Frank Sinatra wins the prize hands down. His disbelief, and then his disillusionment, and then his despair are perfectly portrayed. There were really two Sinatras, the singer AND the great actor.
In watching The Manchurian Candidate again and again, I never cease to be amazed at its prescient theme, the danger of the combination of fanaticism and patriotic fervor. Goldwater's famous quote comes to mind, "Extremism in the defense of virtue is no vice". In my opinion, this film just gets better with age.