In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.
The 1962 version followed the novel rather closely and kept its plot clear and no more cluttered than necessary to its comprehension.
This version is longer than the original and is a considerable departure from Condon's story. Gone is the Cold War background, which is too bad because it contained a neat twist. The Commies are going to take over the country by posing as super-patriotic Right Wingers. Well, that's out now. The title no longer refers to a place but to a corporation -- "Manchurian Global" -- and the corporation is all evil and lacks cleverness. The values they espouse sound like they came out of Reader's Digest. "A grandmother shouldn't have to choose between paying for her medicine and paying for her dinner." Platitudes float around during interviews like neon-blue balloons at a political convention. They could have come directly from recent speeches by one of our leading politicians who once announced: "This is a nation that loves its freedom. Loves its country." I kind of miss the irony of the original story.
Something else too. I followed the novel easily. I also followed the 1962 version with no problem. A squad of American troops are led astray by their Korean interpreter, are captured by the Chinese, and taken to Manchuria where for three days their brains are not merely washed but dry cleaned. Especially Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey in 1962) who is given the treatment full blast and planted as an assassin mole in the U. S. The other men in the unit are a bit less warped and the brain washing memory is not quite obliterated. It expresses itself in nightmares. Finally, Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) figures out what's going on and foils the Commies' plot by undoing the rewired brain of Raymond Shaw.
In this version, the brainwashing is done away with and replaced by high-tech devices that we cannot understand. And instead of getting the deluxe brainwashing treatment, Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) has a chip implanted in his brain, along with another in his shoulder. Evidently the other surviving members of his squad also have chips in their shoulders but not in their heads. Or so I thought.
Throughout, Raymond is the only one who seems programmed to respond to commands after hearing a verbal trigger which puts him into a compliant trance state. But somewhere along the way Major Marco (Washington) may have acquired one too because near the end he too responds to the trigger phrase. I missed the first few minutes and that may account for my confusion.
Still, this version, while enjoyable on its own, isn't up to the original. It's in color and it's louder and it's bloodier but it lacks the cohesiveness of the 1962 version. I don't want to give too many examples, but take the relationship between Raymond and Jocie, the girl friend he is forced to murder. In the original, he is an arrogant skunk, but she is the love of his life -- the only love he is capable of because he's been warped by smotherly love -- and Jocie adores Raymond. She humanizes him. They are married and shortly he shoots her.
In this version -- and I have no idea why this change was made -- Raymond once dated Jocie and still has a crush on her 15 years later but she is dismissive of their earlier relationship and more or less tells him to get it behind him. So when he is forced to murder her, it is not a tragedy, not the death of the only thing he has ever loved enough to be human with, but rather an unfortunate accident. You know -- "too bad".
Likewise this version compares unfavorably to the original with respect to the character of Major Marco -- Sinatra there, Washington here. Sinatra was never a bravura actor but he does a good job of conveying Marco's steady decline into neurological shambles because of his recurring nightmares. He drinks, he sweats, he shakes, he reads -- he reads everything. He has a friend in San Francisco who ships him books by the pound, picked at random. Everything from "Diseases of Horses" through "Principles of Modern Banking" to "Ethnic Choices of the Arabs." The scene on the train in which Sinatra meets Janet Leigh while he disintegrates under her intense and curious stare (he fumbles a cigarette and it plops into his drink) is memorable, as is the elliptical conversation which follows.
In this version, Washington is seated on a train and a young woman across from him strikes up a perfectly normal conversation. In the middle of it, he excuses himself, gets up and goes to the men's room and vomits. That's it. It's bland and unimaginative. Washington is a fine actor but he does not "do" an anxiety attack very well, possibly because the script gives him no chance.
The script leaves out other incidents that are hardly unimportant ones. In the original (1962, mind you) the incestuous relationship between Raymond and his mother is made explicit. Angela Lansbury as the mother (who was in reality about Harvey's own age) plants a big smooch on him before the fade. Here, the corresponding scene ends with Meryl Streep staring with what appears to be an expression of concern up at Liev Schreiber's hypnotized face. It's an added dramatic thread in the story that the new version more or less ignores.
I won't go on about it. This version is pretty good, but it does lack the irony, humor, and utter quirkiness of the novel and the 1962 movie.
- Dec 6, 2005