Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Angela Lansbury, I never knew just how good you are in The Manchurian Candidate (Special Edition).

She's sensational in this John Frankenheimer thriller from 1962. Lansbury, who turns 90 in 2015, earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. Patty Duke won for The Miracle Worker.

Lansbury is Mrs. Iselin, the wife of a blowhard senator (James Gregory), who sees communists everywhere he looks in the United States government. Shades of Joe McCarthy, anyone? There's a rare funny scene in this taut work when he asks his wife just how many communists he's supposed to say are in the American government.

The wife has serious ambitions for her husband, leading to the White House. She takes the steamroller approach to politics, flattening anyone in her way.

She controls her adult son, Raymond (Laurence Harvey), a Korean War veteran. It was she who forced him to end a relationship with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), the daughter of political rival Senator Thomas Jordan (John McGiver). "She won, of course," Raymond tells Marco. "She always does. I could never beat her. I still can't." There's a suggestion she has a sexual relationship with him.

Raymond's problems run far deeper than just a domineering mother.

He and his patrol were ambushed in Korea. He's a puppet of the Russian government, brainwashed and blanking out when he's given an assignment to kill someone. But his comrades are starting to have vivid nightmares of their experiences when they were captured. They're starting to talk. One of Shaw's men is Maj. Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), who works in army intelligence. Army brass suggest he needs a break from service too. A short assignment in public relations fails spectacularly. Marco gets assigned to investigate Shaw.

Shaw is directed to shoot a party's presidential nominee at a certain point in his speech. Marco must stop him.

The Manchurian Candidate (Special Edition) makes for unsettling viewing. Raymond's not a likeable character, even before he's messed up by the Russians. Scenes during the soldiers' captivity is disorienting as perception shifts between what the prisoners see, because they're brainwashed, and what's actually happening.

Janet Leigh doesn't work for me as Sinatra's love interest. I'd argue she could have been cut from the film with no serious detriment.

But that's small beans in what is a very well made film.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: James Gregory was Insp. Frank Luger in television's Barney Miller.

Angela Lansbury was much nicer as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast.

McGiver appeared as Lord Beasley Waterford in an episode of Gilligan's Island.

Parrish was Carolyn Palamas in an episode of Star Trek, Who Mourns for Adonais? She also appeared in The Giant Spider Invasion.

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