The Manchurian Candidate

Raymond Shaw ain’t a bad guy. Events made him one. His mother is such an evil bitch than he might have been better off with Norman Bates’s! Manipulative, cold-hearted and senseless, all she’s ever wanted is power. Being a woman, she can’t really dream of becoming President, so she marries a spineless US senator and uses him as a puppet. The cold war is raging, so she uses the people’s fears and accuse all of their political opponents of being communists. Raymond doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that. He’s much more fond of June Jordan, the daughter of an honest senator and the love of his life. But things mess up and out of despair, he enlists in the army and is sent to Korea. Some 2 years later, he’s back home and ready to receive the medal of honor. His whole crew his praising his courage for saving them and defeating a whole enemy company during the 3 days the unit was missing in action. There’s one problem, though : his superior Major Marco is having nightmares and is starting to think that things didn’t happen that way…

Oh man. This is so the mother of all political thrillers. You won’t believe how though-provoking, intelligent, visionary, complex and challenging this movie is. Especially when you know it was made before the JFK assassination and the McCarthy hearings. The first paragraph I wrote actually only covers about the 15 first minutes of the film. The story then evolves into an extremely tangled yet ingenious web of political conspiracy which involves Korean scientists, Russian officers, American traitors and a great deal of hypnotism. But this isn’t a cold, distant picture: in the midst of all this is a wrenching story of love and treason that wouldn’t be out of place in a Shakespearean tragedy. It was adapted by George Axelrod from the book by Richard Condon, and you gotta praise this guy. This is a sophisticated, somehow cynical thriller that is so ahead of its time that it could have been made yesterday. Movies like “Blow Out” and “In the Line of Fire” were obviously inspired by it. I still can’t believe how brilliant this movie is!

I must also give credit to legendary filmmaker John Frankenheimer, whose flawless direction, sharp visual style and storytelling skills put edge and tension in every scene. He also gets great performances from his cast. Laurence Harvey stars as Shaw, a really challenging role since the character’s brain has been screwed over by so many people that he becomes a human timebomb. Frank Sinatra is the determined Major Marco, and Old Blue Eyes proves how powerful an actor he was. There’s a really masculine, tough quality about him. He’s from a mold of hard-edged heroes we don’t see anymore. Janet Leigh plays a mysterious woman who comes across Sinatra and remains around him for the whole film, yet it’s always unclear what she’s up to. This ain’t a bad thing: it actually heightens the intrigue even more. Finally there’s Angela Lansbury who’s totally chilling as the control-freak mother. It’s an awesome performance, and Lansbury’s character is light years from her Murder She Wrote detective. “The Manchurian Candidate” is truly a film to see. It’s one of the best movie-movies I’ve ever seen.