The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 4.71/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 88.5
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 126 mins
Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh

John Frankenheimer’s magnum opus is a thoroughly captivating story as well as a genuine classic. The plot was of its time but the execution of that plot way ahead of it. Old “Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra plays the army major who returns from the Korean War with strange recurrent nightmares and an inexplicable liking for one of his subordinates who he always found decidedly dislikeable. Lawrence Harvey is that soldier, Raymond Shaw, who hails from a wealthy family dominated by his ruthless mother who will stop at nothing to install her puppet husband as vice president of the country.

Sinatra is every bit the star of the show and his natural charisma ties you to the film. Harvey is excellent as the ill-tempered yet vulnerable Shaw and Angela Lansbury is terrific as his dangerous mother. Janet Leigh is unusually inserted into the story from a fascinating angle which remains quite bluntly unexplained (it’s hinted that she may have a previous history with Sinatra’s character either professional, personal, or other). However, this lack of resolution doesn’t hurt the film in any way and if anything, it adds to the overall strangeness which the movie feeds off.

The Manchurian Candidate (based on Richard Condon’s novel) says much about the then recent McCarthy hearings and it’s all especially insightful. The conditioning aspect to the film is reasonably well rooted in the science but naturally has to take some giant leaps into hugely improbable territory. Frankenheimer’s direction comes into its own during the conditioning scenes as he uses long dream-like pan shots and off-camera dialogue to expertly convey the conceptual sterility of the dastardly Dr. Yen Lo’s (played with relish by Khigh Dhiegh) methodical manipulations. This gives the sequences a cruel soullessness which facilitates some of the creepiest and downright shocking moments we’ve seen on film. And on top of all that there’s one of the earliest American movie ‘kung-fu’ fights which builds wonderfully on Spencer Tracy’s explosive introduction in Bad Day at Black Rock. Unmissable.

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