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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
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You will never find a more chillingly suspenseful, perversely funny, or viciously satirical political thriller than The Manchurian Candidate, based on the novel by Richard Condon (author of Winter Kills). The film, withheld from distribution by star Frank Sinatra for almost a quarter century after President Kennedy's assassination, has lost none of its potency over time. Former infantryman Bennet Marco (Sinatra) is haunted by nightmares about his platoon having been captured and brainwashed in Korea. The indecipherable dreams seem to center on Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), a decorated war hero but a cold fish of a man whose own mother (Angela Lansbury, in one of the all-time great dragon-lady roles) describes him as looking like his head is "always about to come to a point." Mrs. Bates has nothing on Lansbury's character, the manipulative queen behind her second husband, Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), a notoriously McCarthyesque demagogue. --Jim Emerson
- Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
- In-depth interviews with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer
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Top Customer Reviews
It opens in the early 1950s, on a captured platoon of American Korean War G.I.s that somehow ended up at an American ladies garden club party. Or did it? Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army who served valiantly as a captain in the Korean war, can' quite remember, but bits and pieces of the experience keep coming back to him in dreams, as they do to another member of the platoon. As Marco searches for answers, he discovers threads of a murderous Russo-Chinese plot orchestrated by and for the utterly ruthless Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Lansbury), involving her greatly damaged war hero son platoon sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). And her senator husband John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), ranting about 57 Communists in the Army. (Older readers might remember Senator Joe McCarthy ranting about 57 Communists in the State Department.)
This chilling controversial film (Leonard Maltin), in which a former prisoner of war is brainwashed to create an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made (Pauline Kael). It certainly continues to be only too relevant today. And what a farseeing genius Condon was. Strongly recommended.
I found the book just wonderful and fascinating. It made me appreciate the two films that were adapted from it even more. While the story; American soldiers in the Korean conflict who are taken and brainwashed by a collective of Russian, Chinese and Korean 'brain washers' was shocking for its time, there are other subplots that would never make it past the Hayes Code of 1962 and even in 2016 are shocking.
The book's style is rather unique. It is a bit like the writing of the hard boiled detective novels if the author kept a thesaurus on their desk to drop in obscure and obsolete words and phrases. I was often using the dictionary function of my Kindle. There were even words that stumped the Kindle's dictionary. The book is manly. Most of the main characters are men or women who act like men of the time. Yet the author repeats the theme of the love of a 'good woman' as a redemptive cure for what ails you.
The other thing that I found amazing in this almost 60 year old book was that parts of it almost seemed to be ripped from the headlines of today. There is a Senator who is accusing everyone of working with the Russian Communists and who runs to the media to accuse all of his political enemies of this baseless charge.
Definitely a 5-star film.
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