It's amusing to imagine the audience reactions to the film when it first premiered during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A film about an embedded communist assassin effecting a presidential election campaign with the world on the brink of a nuclear holocaust must have additionally upped the anxiety levels of many. I never saw the film when it was first released. I was too busy doing air raid drills, hiding under my school desk with my head between my legs getting ready to kiss my ass goodbye.
Directed by John Frankenheimer. The screenplay was written by George Axelrod and is based on the 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. Cinematography was by Lionel Lindon. Music was by David Amram, film editing was by Ferris Webster and production design by Richard Sylbert.
The film stars Frank Sinatra (Suddenly (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), ), Laurence Harvey (BUtterfield 8 (1960), Walk on the Wild Side (1962)), and Janet Leigh (Act of Violence (1948), Rogue Cop (1954),Touch of Evil (1958), Psycho (1960), Harper (1966), ); co-starring are Angela Lansbury (Gaslight (1944), ), Henry Silva, James Gregory (Nightfall (1956), The Big Caper (1957)), John McGiver, James Edwards and Khigh Dhiegh.
|Shaw (Harvey), Marco (Sinatra), Chunjin (Silva)|
|Raymond Shaw (Harvey)|
Marco is hipped. The brainwashing not quite complete. He goes to Army Intel. He describes the nightmare/flashback. Allen Melvin another platoon member has same recall. Intel investigates.
Marco and Melvin identify some of the men in the dream as leading figures in communist circles.
|Raymond (Shaw), Mrs. Iselin (Lansbury), Senator John Yerkes Iselin (Gregory)|
|Marco (Sinatra), Chaney (Leigh)|
|Dr. Yen Lo (Dhiegh) left.|
Mrs. Iselin is in reality a card carrying commie. Her plan involves using Raymond who is now a communist trained assassin, to murder the presidential candidate during his acceptance speech at the convention, thereby having her husband (the vice presidential candidate) lead the ticket.
Raymond is triggered into various actions by a Queen Of Diamonds playing card. When displayed he obeys instructions, and has no memory afterwards. Shaw is overseen by Chunjin (Henry Silva), a North Korean agent who is employed as his houseboy.
As Marco gets closer to the truth and Mrs. Iselin eliminates, using Raymond, all obstacles to her plans the the film escalates to an exciting conclusion
The film is both a thriller and a somewhat of a political satire. The communist brainwashers are juxtaposed against right wing buffoons.
Laurence Harvey is outstanding as the mama's boy/assassin, he's always struck me as phony, unreal, a douche, nobody really talks like that normally, but it all feeds into and builds the story. Sinatra is good as Marco the haunted Major who breaks the case. Angela Lansbury steals the show as Mrs. Iselin a duplicitous bitch. James Gregory is entertaining as he sanctimoniously spouts baloney. Henry Silva and Khigh Dhiegh play the villains well. The only disappointment was Janet Leigh's Eugenie Rose Chaney a character that seems to be just a tacked on love interest for Marco.
Screencaps are from the MGM special edition DVD 9/10