THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) / DIRECTOR: JOHN FRANKENHEIMER / SCREENPLAY: GEORGE AXELROD / STARRING: FRANK SINATRA, LAURENCE HARVEY, ANGELA LANSBURY, JAMES GREGORY, JANET LEIGH, LESLIE PARRISH, JOHN MCGIVER, HENRY SILVA / RELEASED: OUT NOW

Now here is a film of its time. Yet, as sometimes happens, it’s also a film we might see in an entirely different light than when it was released at the height of the Cold War.

Based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name, The Manchurian Candidate starts off with a US patrol being captured during the Korean War. The survivors return home and, based on their memories of events, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey) is awarded the Medal of Honor. The problem is that their memories, which also involve the somewhat surreal spectacle of them attending a middle-aged women’s lecture on the cultivation of hydrangeas, are all identical and almost certainly a load of old nonsense. Looks like some dastardly communists have brainwashed our boys and, worse still, the now-nationally-elevated Shaw is the son of a power-hungry domineering mother (Lansbury) who’s married a McCarthy-like senator with presidential ambitions (Gregory). There’s a communist-conspiracy afoot and only a fellow survivor’s suspicions (Sinatra) that their memories don’t actually make any sense stands in the way. Get ready for some paranoia, some ‘60s US politics and more weirdness than you might be expecting.

Make no mistake, even if the plot isn’t entirely watertight, The Manchurian Candidate is a bona fide classic and the passing of time has actually given it a little bit more edge. It’s not really a spoiler to mention it so we’ll tell you it involves a bit of Lee Harvey Oswald-style assassination shenanigans and yet this was a movie released a full year before JFK’s ill-advised grassy knoll drive-by. While James Gregory’s comedic turn as the senator (he can’t remember how many communists there are in the Department of Defence, so after a series of gaffes he settles on Heinz’s 57 varieties) is clearly based on Joseph McCarthy, his boozed-up fear-mongering couldn’t help but remind us of a certain present-day British MEP [who I’m relieved to note you have left nameless –Ed]. And amongst the rather good performances on display, there’s a legendary piece of artistry from Angela Lansbury. Now, our Angela is a pretty good actress (this role got her a third Oscar nomination) but you really need to see this one to believe it. Apart from being utterly convincing as Laurence Harvey’s mother despite being only three years older than him (no make-up jobs here, that’s just acting), she gives us one of the best onscreen villainesses of all time. She delivers a monologue that will chill you to your soul, but it’s made all the more terrifying by the fact that, to us, she’s lovely old Jessica Fletcher; something the contemporary audience would have had no inkling of. Yep, our baggage just makes it all the more scary.

The Blu-ray transfer is good and there’s some rather interesting interviews on the disc with Lansbury and Sinatra so, in short, you’ll be needing this one.

Special Features: Audio commentary / Two documentaries / Interviews with Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury / Trailer
 

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