The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Conden
M.C. Productions
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

I consider this the best conspiracy movie ever made.  Pity about Janet Leigh’s character, though.

As the movie begins a unit headed by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) is on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines in North Korea.  Marco credits Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) with saving the lives of the survivors of the action and Shaw receives the Medal of Honor for his heroism.  After returning to the U.S., Marco suffers from weird recurring nightmares in which Shaw commits unspeakable acts during a gardening club meeting.  These are so distressing that his commanding officer orders him to take it easy.  Marco believes he is losing his mind until he is approached by one of his comrades who is having similar nightmares.  He becomes determined to ferret out the truth.

In the meantime, Raymond’s mother (Angela Lansbury) and step-father Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory) are basking in Raymond’s glory.  The Iselins are rabid Red-baiters and have ambitions to take the White House.  Raymond hates his mother for breaking up the great romance of his life and despises Johnny and his politics.  Anyone who has not had the story spoiled previously will be glad that I stop here.

One aspect of the movie that cannot be spoiled is Marco’s bizarre encounter with Rosie (Janet Leigh) on a train.  It is love at first sight on her part featuring dialogue that can only be described as surreal.  The Rosie-Marco romance is the one weak spot in an otherwise excellent and chilling movie.

All of the principal players are at the top of their game and Lansbury’s performance is unforgettable.  It’s unfortunate that she was competing for the Oscar that year with Patty Duke, who could not have been denied.  Every technical aspect is practically perfect as well.  Highly recommended.

The Manchurian Candidate was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Film Editing.


6 thoughts on “The Manchurian Candidate

  1. I agree completely. The romance angle fails for me entirely (and it was oddly kept in the decent-but-not-as-good remake), but the actual conspiracy here is as good as it gets.

    And Angela Lansbury! Who knew she had that in her?

    • I have grown to expect some kind of romance in all my movies. The problem with this one was that the encounter was so bizarre I figured it was part of the plot. “Are you Arabic?” – what a pick-up line!

  2. I recently revisited “The Manchurian Candidate.” I agree, it remains outstanding in cinema history. If it is not on the list of films you should see before you die, it sure should be. 1962 is shaping up to be another watershed year for the maturation of the Hollywood film.

  3. You are right, I had forgotten about the Janet Leigh romance. I was certain she was involved somehow and instead it was just romantic filler. What a shame. Luckily the rest is so good I completely forgot it.

    • The first time I saw this I thought she was part of the conspiracy. The dialogue is just so very weird! Maybe it’s the only romance that would really complement the bizarre story. And I mean bizarre in the best possible way …

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