Posts Tagged ‘Frank Sinatra’

Movie Reviews 437 – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

June 4, 2020

We’ve been living in a political dark period for some time now. The growing presence of Internet social networking sites has transformed them into powerful political influence conduits that are not only vulnerable, but being actively exploited not only by political parties, but also foreign powers which are even a greater threat.

While some of the younger people may believe that this is a new phenomena that has come about because of online social networking, the manipulation of a voting public has been around since there have been politicians. Newspapers going back hundreds of years have been empires built and manipulated by controlling owners, often brazenly favoring candidates, parties or ideological stripes. When Television came along, it proved an even more powerful tool given the inherent audio and video capabilities.

One of the first presidential campaigns in which it is acknowledged television was a deciding factor was the John F. Kennedy win over Nixon in 1961. Charisma aside, even makeup and lighting during the televised debate proved to present remarkable differences between the men. Ironically president Kennedy plays a part in this review of The Manchurian Candidate, a classic thriller that hinges on the then nascent Cold War.

Former Korean War prisoner Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) returns home to a hero’s welcome orchestrated by his mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) who stages the event as a photo opportunity for her husband, Senator Iselin (James Gregory) who is running for president. Shaw, despising his manipulative mother and buffoon step-father is being bestowed a congressional Medal of Honor, hailed for reputedly escaping his captors and single handedly saving a number of his battle comrades.

The only problem is that none of what he remembers actually happened. While he and the others have clouded recollections of the official story, they have lingering nightmares of an entirely different scenario. In their dreams they are seated onstage listening to a speech on horticulture delivered to a women’s auxiliary club. But those very memories waver and at times the women are actually Communist henchmen, and even worse, a brainwashed Shaw obediently chokes a fellow serviceman when asked. That dead serviceman is one who supposedly was killed in action.

These conflicting memories have a greater impact on Shaw’s former commanding officer, Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) who never got along with the loutish Shaw, and yet when asked what he thinks about him uncontrollably replies in a trancelike state “Raymond Shaw is the bravest, kindest, warmest most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Marco’s persistence in flagging the authorities that something is wrong finally pays off, but while convinced Shaw has been brainwashed by the enemy, the purpose for his release and supposed mission remain unknown. That is until Marco figures out the psychological trigger, the appearance of the Queen of Hearts in a card deck, which makes Shaw submissive to following instructions.

This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with remarkable performances by the entire cast, but particularly by Lansbury as the ice-cold calculating pivotal figure. The unloved Shaw whose only redeeming quality is seeing his mother for what she is, has a brief tinge of humanity restored when he falls for the daughter (Leslie Parrish) of his step-father’s political nemesis (John McGiver), but even that interlude falls victim to his mother’s interference. The entire relationship is as interesting as the political intrigue and there are some not so subtle hints of an incestuous relationship. Less enjoyable is a shoehorned in love interest for Sinatra with Janet Leigh that just falls flat.

Front and center of course is the political maneuvering. While some may find the idea of simple brainwashing a bit much, as a plot element it remains effective even if only symbolically. The sequences in which the filming interleaves the old ladies transforming into a communist audience is mesmerizing. If the ending were not good enough after we find out what the endgame Shaw was being driven into, there is an added twist to make it all the better.

There was a longstanding myth that this film was pulled from theatres after JFK’s assasination due to the eerily similar aspects in the film but that has largely been dispelled over the years. What is true is that it was not promoted or marketed for a number of years following the incident and fell into obscurity for a long time until a revival in the late 80’s after which it gained praise and established itself as a classic film.

Richard Condon’s novel on which the film was based or perhaps the film itself seems to have been the inspiration for the episode The Hundred Days of the Dragon from the original Outer Limits television show. Shortly after this release director John Frankenheimer went on to helm 7 days in May which also shares elements of this story.  My MGM special edition DVD also had a nice featurette by fellow director William Friedkin as well as interviews with Frankenheimer, Sinatra and Screenplay writer George Axlerod.

I have to admit that while I have watched this film several times before, I find it all the more chilling in this political climate we find ourselves today. Foreign political interference is hardly even concealed and the effects of having a weak candidate in a position of power is all too evident.

We were warned.