Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Cold War Noir

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)
Korean War. US Platoon. Bennett Marco (Sinatra), Captain, Italian. Raymond Shaw (Harvey), Sergeant, goes by the book. Loner. Mama's boy. Dipshit. Has a stick up his ass. Seven other G.I.'s . Out on recon. Led into trap. Captured by Chinese/Soviets. Drugged, Brainwashed. Several days later they cross back to US Lines, all have same story. Shaw saved their lives. A Bad Ass. Single handedly wiped out a Chinese company. Big hero. All platoon survivors have same praise "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

Raymond Shaw (Harvey)
Shaw is awarded Medal Of Honor. Marco is promoted to Major. Marco and rest of platoon all have a crazy recurring nightmare, they are attending a Ladies function at a hotel listening to a lecture about hydrangeas, but the nightmare/flashback keeps switching between the lecture and a small amphitheater full with Chinese, Soviet, and communist brass and medical personnel. What frightens them the most is that they see a conditioned Shaw brutally murder, machine like, without any emotion, the two platoon members who didn't make it back.



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)

Raymond Shaw's mother, Mrs. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), has big plans. She's a cold hearted schemer. In a nod to McCarthyism, her plan is to make her chowderhead, red baiting, husband Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), who sees communists embedded in all branches of government, President of the United States.

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

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