The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
Article 2477 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-13-2008
Posting Date: 5-24-2008
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh
Country: USA

A Korean war veteran receives the Medal of Honor for having rescued nine men from his platoon. However, when a Major in the military begins to suffer nightmares that seem to contradict this event, he tries to find the truth. He discovers that the war hero has actually been brainwashed by communists to assassinate someone – but who, when and where?

The last movie for this series that I’ve seen from John Frankenheimer was THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN; it’s hard to believe that the director of that stinker is the same man who brought us this brilliant and gripping political thriller. The story is simply amazing; it manages to combine a bizarre array of elements (such as games of solitaire, a woman’s garden club meeting on hydrangeas, a man jumping in the lake in Central Park, a dysfunctional (and possibly even incestuous) mother-son relationship, a faked hit-and-run accident, a snake bite, McCarthy’s list of “known communists”, and a magician’s trick deck of cards) into a nail-biting story about an attempted coup by communists to take over the United States. It takes a while before all the various elements start to come together, but the movie is fascinating every step of the way. The performances are all top notch, with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury in particular very strong. The movie is full of great scenes; the nightmare sequences, the moment when we discover the identity of the American operative, and (my personal favorite) the scene where Sinatra’s character attempts to undo the brainwashing of Harvey’s character. The only flaw in the movie is that Janet Leigh’s character and the subplot about her romance with Sinatra’s character is unnecessary. The fantastic content of the movie includes the brainwashing techniques and the fact that the overall political plot puts the movie into marginal science fiction territory. The cast also features Henry Silva (who engages in an early martial arts fight with Sinatra), James Gregory (as a drunken senator partially modeled off of Joe McCarthy), John McGiver (as a Senator), Whit Bissell, and Reggie Nalder. And, of course, that’s Paul Frees on narration.

 

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