The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. He served valiantly as a captain in the Korean war and his Sergeant, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), even won the Medal of Honor. Marco has a major problem however: he has a recurring nightmare, one where two members of his squad are killed by Shaw. He’s put on indefinite sick leave and visits Shaw in New York. Shaw for his part has established himself well, despite the misgivings of his domineering mother, Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury). She is a red-baiter, accusing anyone who disagrees with her right-wing reactionary views of being a Communist.

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Raymond hates her, not only for how she’s treated him but equally because of his step-father, the ineffectual U.S. Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), who is intent on seeking higher office. When Marco learns that others in his Korean War unit have nightmares similar to his own, he realizes that something happened to all of them in Korea.

Could it really happen?

16 May 2005 | by Lee Eisenberg (lee.eisenberg.pdx@gmail.com) (Portland, Oregon, USA) – See all my reviews

During the Korean War, an American platoon is kidnapped by the North Koreans. When they return, one of them (Laurence Harvey) appears to be acting strangely. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the enemy did something to him, possibly to the point where they might still be in complete control of him.

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Admittedly, “The Manchurian Candidate” is basically a Red Scare movie, but it’s different in that it doesn’t simply follow the silly story of the Commies invading a Norman Rockwell-style town. The movie’s focus is what the audience doesn’t know. Not to mention the top-notch performances from Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury and John McGiver. Interestingly, the 2004 remake actually managed to be as good as the original. Ten out of ten.

A political and social thriller/drama ahead of its time.

9/10
Author: teren from Chicago, USA
20 August 2001

John Frankenheimer’s surrealistic direction and George Axelrod’s adaptation of the 1959 book by the same name offer Laurence Harvey a career defining role.

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Set in 1950’s, A Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw(Harvey) returns home to a medal of honor for rescuing his POW platoon from behind Chinese lines and back to safety. One of the returning soldiers, (played effectively by Frank Sinatra) however, has recurring dreams of his platoon being brainwashed and Shaw committing acts of murder.

He eventually convinces army brass that Shaw is still a puppet of his Communist-Marxist operators.

Angela Lansbury, (although barely a few years older than Harvey was at the time) plays his mother in a tour de force role. She absolutely captivates and steals every scene she is in, playing a very complex role that needs to convince the viewer of many things without much dialogue.

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There’s a rich cast of characters, including Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, James Edwards, and a painfully accurate James Gregory. Each character weaves through the methodical subplots and tapestry of Frankenheimer’s masterful “Hitchcockian” pace.

I won’t give away the plot, but dear readers, allow me to sat that this one is really worth watching–until the nail-biting and chilling conclusion.

There are many undertones in this film — political, sexual, class and power, and social. You will want to view this film several times to approach it from different perspectives.

A Powerful, Wicked Satire.

10/10
Author: nycritic
9 March 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By the dawn of the 60s America had not been through with McCarthy-ism, the Korean War, and Communist witch hunts when it was already aiming towards a Cold War situation and ultimately, Vietnam.

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So much plays into this movie which came out at exactly the right time and place that even years later, layers of subtext can be garnered from its paranoiac, frightening images.

Power is a deadly thing to deal with, especially when it falls into the hands that should have it the least, and the word seems to dominate every angle of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE like a glowing ball of fire. The power to control minds and bend them to darker wills. The power to control the people into believing what the powers-that-be want. The power to demolish anything or anyone considered an even remote obstacle. The power to seize power, extend it outward, blindly, into a waiting globe.

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And so does this disturbing, dark tale of the search for power in the political world takes place, with some of the most indelible images ever transferred onto the face of cinema. Frankenheimer amps up the paranoia already oozing from the story and with some truly nightmarish sequences brings forth a Creation that always seems like it will disclose some hideous, unseen force playing behind the scene — the deceptive hydrangea scene at the beginning of the movie and the train scene where a shaken Sinatra meets Leigh who seems to be sincere are two very uneasy sequences to follow through, for example, because both disorient and succeed in sticking needles of doubt into your mind in more ways than one. You know something is completely wrong here and what lies beneath is always unsettling than what is eventually uncovered.

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This is a character study as well as a political satire: while there is plenty of tension throughout, deep characterizations come through, and needless it is to me to state Angela Lansbury’s terrifying performance as Mrs. Iselin, or Laurence Harvey’s chilling portrait of a non-entity, a victim and a puppet who’s design is to serve as a killing machine and a false hero. Much can be also said of Janet Leigh’s Rosie, since her part suggests she also knows and is more than what she reveals, but sadly the film drops what might have been an interesting side story from the moment she appears on the train and talks in that coded language. It seems she only serves to be Sinatra’s “controller.” As for Sinatra himself, he’s an asset and a weakness. He’s too old to be Laurence Harvey’s equal in combat, and his persona often comes through, but he does tune in a measured performance as the damaged General Marco.

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MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is one of those stories that detail the loss of innocence in America (with its killing of the more honest Senator Thomas Jordan and his almost pure daughter Josie, done without music, but in two long takes) and its transition to a super-power bent on political domination, and it chills to the bone to see it still today, 42 years later.

Keep Your Eye on the Card, Keep Your Eye on the Card…

Author: tfrizzell from United States
11 June 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Intense Cold War era masterpiece that seems to grow bolder and more intelligent with age. A group of U.S. soldiers are captured one night during the Korean War in 1952. Next thing the group remembers is arriving home with Laurence Harvey (one of the troops) being given the Medal of Honor for some unknown reason.

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He immediately decides to go to New York City to get away from his over-protective mother (Oscar nominee Angela Lansbury) and her senator husband (a solid turn by character actor James Gregory). But nothing is quite what it seems. Harvey, obviously with no experience in journalism, becomes involved with a publication that is sympathetic with Communist propaganda. Meanwhile several other soldiers from Harvey’s battalion (commanding officer Frank Sinatra in particular) start to have disturbing dreams where the group is in a room during a dull women’s meeting where the main topic of discussion is botany. Flashes occur however where the women actually become Korean and Russian delegates that are all listening to a crazed doctor (Khigh Dhiegh) who is discussing brainwashing techniques and total mind manipulation through various kinds of hypnosis. The dreams are rough and frightening.

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It seems that Sinatra has a rare form of war fatigue, but there is no way to explain how others are having similar night-time delusions. As he tries to cope he falls in love with the beautiful Janet Leigh and they start to have a relationship. Eventually Sinatra begins to put the jagged pieces together just as Harvey becomes serious with a beautiful young woman (Leslie Parrish) whose father (John McGiver) happens to be one of Gregory’s main obstacles to a possible vice presidential nomination in the next national election. Who is really controlling everything from the inside and what is Harvey’s main purpose for being brainwashed? Richard Condon’s paranoid novel comes to life vividly in a truly outstanding motion picture. Screenwriter George Axelrod’s adaptation keeps the momentum of the book at a fevered pitch throughout. Director John Frankenheimer (only 32 at the time) completed the one film that he would always be remembered for.

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His career honestly had a lot more lows than highs, but his full potential as a first-class film-maker is easy to recognize here. The performances are top-notch with Lansbury (actually only three years older than Harvey) doing the best work of her career (albeit in a somewhat small role). Laurence Harvey’s tortured character is also a sight to behold. It is an immensely interesting role that keeps the whole production glued together. Harvey, an actor I really never thought had much talent, proves that when everything else is working well that he can be a reputable performer. And of course Sinatra is solid as he always was throughout a film career that hit its peak from about 1950 through 1965. Once again he adds a certain depth and an amazing complexity to an already rich role. Smart, stylish, at times nasty and always impressive, “The Manchurian Candidate” is one of those pictures that continues to be a fixture in the American cinema as time goes by. 5 stars out of 5.

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Excellent Cinema

Author: Hobbes_512 from Chicago, IL
3 July 2003

I went into “The Manchurian Candidate” without knowing too much about the movie itself. I knew about its critical acclaim, but I was unfamiliar with the plot. Regardless, when I rented and watched the film, I had high expectations. I was not disappointed either.

The plot revolves around the strange case of Raymond Shaw, a sergeant who wins the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in the cold war. Two of the men in his company, however, have strange nightmares that suggest Raymond is not as deserving of the award as he seems. One of these men, Major Bennet Marco, led on by these recurring nightmares, unravels a sinister Communist plot.

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Set against the cold war paranoia of the sixties and McCarthyism, “The Manchurian Candidate” does an excellent job of recreating the intense suspense and tension of the time.

The acting in this film is superb. A great script is heightened by excellent acting in this movie. It’s hard not to like Frank Sinatra in his role as Marco, who is the protagonist. Laurence Harvey as Raymond does a good job showing us a character that is wholly unlikable and snobby, yet pathetic and sad at the same time. And of course, Angela Lansbury in her role as Raymond’s malicious and plotting mother is excellent.

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Some stand-out scenes in the film were the nightmare sequences that brilliantly interlaced dream and reality, the all-queen solitaire game with Marco and Raymond, and the supremely tense climax at the political convention. The cinematography in the movie was very well done as action, romance, and tension all mixed together smoothly. All the scenes managed to keep my attention and kept me wondering what was going to happen next. As a thriller, the film works remarkably well, and it is quite easily the best political thriller I’ve seen to date.

Keeping me from giving the movie a perfect ten are one or two little nagging problems. I wasn’t a big fan of the music for the movie, and it even disrupted the mood for me at one point in the film. It was okay, just not great. Also, the whole plot is sort of unlikely. I wont go into it here, but I don’t think that the Communist plan for world domination would fall into the hands of one relatively uncontrolled person, no matter how well trained his mind was. That’s just my opinion, however.

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The movie is sort of long, and isn’t exactly action packed, but it is very interesting, insightful, and even chilling. I had a great time watching it, and I definitely recommend it if you are interested at all in seeing a gripping Cold War era political thriller. Besides, the cultural relevance of the film alone is enough to see it.

9/10

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