Saturday, November 5, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE"

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)

Director: John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: George Axelrod based on the novel by Richard Condon



There’s an incredible chain of events, some based on fact, and some based on Hollywood folklore that prevented this film from being re-released to the public until twenty-five years after its original release date. One of the so-called reasons behind this was because Frank Sinatra, who owned the rights, withheld the movie after Kennedy was assassinated out of anger. It’s not true, but the coincidental timing did play a role in how great this film turned out being. Some call it a brilliant political satire, which is true; the best example of this is when the alcoholic Sen. Iselin (James Gregory) is talking to his wife about how many Communists he should claim there are, and after a brief discussion, he finds his answer on a ketchup bottle. (Sen. Iselin is clearly a pick at McCarthy, who in fact was a drunk.) But, I never think of the satire, some of it, as outrageous as some of it is if you really want to consider the logic of some of it, still sometimes seems too realistic to me. (Lately, a little too believable sadly enough) This definitely is first a top-notch political thriller, and in some ways the best of all-time.

After fighting in the Korean War, Capt. Marco (Sinatra’s greatest acting performance) suddenly starts having some strange nightmares about certain events that occurred in Korea that don’t seem to ring true,. After confronting other soldiers who served with him on it, including Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), the stepson of Sen. Iselin, he begins to suspect that he may have been brainwashed by Chinese Communists during the war. I know it sounds funny, but I never watching this film and I don't know anybody else who does either, it’s somehow believable, a credit to Frankenheimer’s directing that it can be. John Frankenheimer's a director I'm somewhat amazed hasn't gotten a more cult-like resurgence in recent year, the same way that, say contemporaries like Nicholas Ray have. He's a bit difficult to describe as a director, I guess the closest would be that he was a next generation Howard Hawks, except unlike Hawks, he had no interest in comedy. He's was a manly action thriller director, very experimental too, with movies like "Grand Prix", about Formula-1 auto racing, which, at the time, and "The Gypsy Moths" about base diving, back when that term had barely been invented, much less the processes of how you actually photograph people who are jumping out of airplanes. Yeah, his filmography is a bit of a mixed bag, but "The Fixer", "The Iceman Cometh", "Birdman of Alcatraz", one of my favorite biopics, even up 'til the '90s, he made some great TV movies like "Andersonville" and "George Wallace", even had a couple good late career theatrical releases like "Ronin" and his last film "Reindeer Games"; I've heard some people defend his sequel to "The French Connection" as being better than the original classic film; it's not as strange an argument as it sounds either. "The Manchurian Candidate" is his best film, but he's a director I suspect many will rediscover in the coming years.   

If you don’t know, a Manchurian Candidate is somebody who has been brainwashed, especially associated with terrorists activities, and hidden programs of governments, including this one, and usually they seem normal and fine until a programmer can trigger something in them that can suddenly make them an agent for a foreign government, almost hypnotized to do evil some may say. Again, this may seem absurd, but you know, Marc David Chapman was found with a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” after he shot John Lennon, and that idea was brought back in the Richard Donner film "Conspiracy Theory" so, it's out there.)
           
In this movie, instead of a book, a playing card is used to program/reprogram/deprogram Raymond. And before I go on, I have to mention, after watching this film, you will never think of Angela Lansbury in the same way again. Her Oscar Nominated performance as the incestuous mother of Raymond is one of the most evil film characters I’ve ever seen. (And when I say “incestuous,” it’s implied, but not seen, although in the novel…)

"The Manchurian Candidate" despite being a clear remnant of a cold war era that's in most ways is long gone, still remains as disturbing and frightening as ever, especially for it's time. A remake a few years back by Jonathan Demme, tried a somewhat-interesting modern twist but was mostly forgettable as it didn't really have the intensity and ticking clock horror and mystery that the original has, as well as some of the absurd comedic frights, like when Raymond's girlfriend shows up at a masquerade party in exactly the last costume she should be. Dark comedy, but it cuts what would otherwise be an ungodly amount of tension with just enough surgical precision that the movie needs to still remain one of the great political thrillers of all-time. 
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