The Manchurian Candidate, 1962.
Directed by John Frankenheimer.
Starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silver and James Gregory.
A former Korean War POW is brainwashed by Communists into becoming a political assassin. But another former prisoner may know how to save him.
Exploring the extremes of cold war paranoia in a stylish cloak and dagger format that must have raised more than a few eyebrows on its release in 1962, The Manchurian Candidate is a film that takes a look beyond the usual political invective.
Following the terrifying experiences of Korean War veterans as they attempt to settle back into ‘normal’ American life, the film is a supremely dark portrayal of influence and control. Laurence Harvey (Room at the Top, Darling) as Raymond Shaw creates a terrifyingly understated performance as the pawn in the games of the political elite. Specifically, his character is controlled through the use of code words and stimuli – in his case the card game of Solitaire – and can be used to do, or kill, anything .
Also into this mêlée of confusion where everyone has another side or identity is Frank Sinatra’s Major Bennett Marco, a troubled ex-crew man of Shaw’s. Ol’ blue eyes injects a memorising intensity into the role and is at all times fully believable. His scenes – particularly the abstract and vaguely surreal not so small-talk lines delivered by him and Janet Leigh (Psycho) in their first train line meeting – bring a raw power and almost improvisational strength to the proceedings.
The film also captures one of the most controlled sinister performances of all time from Angela Lansbury (still best known to many for Murder, She Wrote) as Elenor Shaw Iselin; the poor Raymond’s mother. Her ability to express so much beyond the picture is one of the many reasons why the film deserves continued reanalysis and consideration. The film is firmly rooted in the dynamics of political intrigue and is at once a sharply turned thriller and a deeply unsettling appraisal of what might be going on in the corridors of power…
The original The Manchurian Candidate arrives here elegantly delivered by Arrow Films in a Blu-ray/DVD combo package. The film – which was out of circulation from 1963 to 1988 due to fears surrounding the assassination of JFK – gathered a new generation of fans when it was finally re-released. Here, a full examination of the implications and quandaries expressed in the film also receive a full airing. This alongside superb remastering and redefinition brings forth another way to enjoy this mind-wrangling film. In effect, another excellent package from Arrow.
- Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
- The Directors: John Frankenheimer, an hour-long portrait from 2003, including interviews with Frankenheimer, Kirk Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, Roy Scheider, Rod Steiger and many others
- Interview with John Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra and screenwriter George Axelrod from the film’s 1988 revival
- Queen of Diamonds: an interview with Angela Lansbury
- A Little Solitaire: an appreciation of the film by director William Friedkin (The Exorcist)
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
- Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Knight (Conspiracy Culture) and Neil Sanders (Your Thoughts Are Not Your Own), illustrated with original production stills
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.