Posts Tagged ‘Janet Leigh’

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.

Movie Reviews 21 – Psycho

December 14, 2010

Seeing as this is the 50th anniversary of the release of Psycho, I thought it was high time to rewatch the original and the three sequels that followed, none of which I had bothered with before. The task was made easy for me as I found a DVD set with all three sequels in the $5 bin. All I had to track down was …

Psycho (1960)
A classic if there ever was one. I suspect that there are millions of people today that have never watched Psycho that still recognize the shrill string sounds of “The Shower Scene”, perhaps not even knowing that it is a reference to the movie. The Bernard Herrman score is almost as famous as Alfred Hitchcock directing the movie. And last, but not least, Robert Bloch’s novel on which the movie is based and the screenplay by Joseph (original Outer Limits) Stephano. Psycho is the one creative production for which each of these four people are most associated with, and for which one could argue each did their best work. The movie broke numerous ‘rules’ of filmmaking at the time, my favorite being the sudden death of the main character midway through the movie. So if you happen to be one of the few people on the planet who has not seen the movie, I’m sure not going to spoil it by explaining it. At the end you’ll know exactly why the name Norman Bates and the Bates Motel elicits fear at their mere mention. Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and even bit player Martin Balsam probably put in the performances of their respective careers. It’s a great classic movie. Just watch it.

Psycho II (1983)
Although it took a long time getting around to putting a sequel out, and of course there was no way that it could live up to the original, it was certainly an entertaining movie. Norman Bates has paid his debt to society by now and has been released from the mental institution. He returns to his iconic house and to the Bates Motel which is being run by an appointed caretaker (Denis Franz). The caretaker is running the hotel as a love nest for quickie encounters and immediately raises the ire of Norman. But Norman seeks a regular job at a local rest-stop eatery as a short order cook and quickly befriends one of the younger waitresses (Meg Tilly). When she gets put out by her boyfriend she reluctantly accepts a free room with Norman. But all is not well with Norman as he begins to see notes from ‘Mother’. He is also being harassed by the sister of Marion Crane (as famously portrayed by Janet Leigh in the original). She’s not satisfied that Norman has been rehabilitated and is intent on getting him back to jail, one way or another. It’s a well built mystery as we try to figure out if Norman is really going bonkers again or if he is really being set up. Sure, it’s no Psycho, but it’s a decent sequel.

Psycho III (1986)
This movie starts out in a weird manner. A young woman dressed as a nun is holed up in a church tower and about to jump down to end it all. A bunch of nuns below are clamoring for her to get back in and as she hesitates other nuns are rushing to her from within the tower stairs. But as they try to pull her back into the tower, one of the nuns is cast off into the depths of the tower and plunges to her death. It seems the young nun apprentice had doubts about her faith and after the mishap she is cast out from the convent into the desert. She hitches a ride from a young wannabe rockstar drifter who ditches her in the middle of a storm at night when she rejects his advances. As can be expected, her journey brings her to the Bates motel. Unfortunately, the drifter is also there as the new motel caretaker. She reluctantly stays as she has nowhere else to go and befriends Norman. But Norman has his own problems in the guise of a snooping reporter writing a piece about serial killers. And then the inevitable rash of murders begin. Is it the nutty drifter? The failed nun? The reporter? Or is it … Norman? I should point out that Anthony Perkins directed this one himself.

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)
Easily the worst of the Psycho movies. I was immediately put off by the setup wherein Norman calls into a talk radio call-in show in which serial killers are being discussed. The radio host and guests soon figure out that the caller is the infamous Norman Bates, but the kicker is that he has said that he intends to kill again, but for a special reason. It appears that Norman is happily married at this point in his life, but there is one ‘small’ problem with his wife and for this he intends to kill her. The movie is paced by the calls Norman makes to the show, phone calls between himself and his wife, and studio scenes where they discuss first the mystery of who the caller is and then how to locate him and keep him talking on the air so he can be traced. I must admit that Norman’s reasoning is not to be dismissed outright which rekindles the argument as to whether he is good/bad, sane/insane, but other than that, there isn’t much more to the movie. I found the whole ‘call in show’ premise boring. I later learned that this was a made-for-TV movie which somewhat explains it’s inferiority. Also surprising is that a young Mick Garris directed this movie before finding success with the “Masters of Horror” series and a few other notable horror movies.