The Manchurian Candidate

AFI Rank: #67
Year Released: 1962
Director: John Frankenheimer
Actors: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury

I've seen The Manchurian Candidate numerous times now and each time I'm reminded of its classic power. Many movies in the AFI top 100 have meaning in a historical context, but seem very dated when viewed now. In comparison, while The Manchurian candidate "only" reached #67, its message is just as powerful now as it was when released.

The story is both simple and impactful. A war hero is "made" by the Communists, and brainwashed. Their idea is to then use him to influence US politics. The brainwashed characters have a variety of mental issues due to the brainwashing, and over time they figure out what is going on. The main brainwashee, Shaw, is unfortunate enough to have his mother involved in the process. In the book she had an actual incestuous relationship with her son, but in the movie it is simply implied that she is that over-the-edge.

There are so many little touches here that draw me in. The way the other men have their minds torn by what is going on. The way Shaw himself reacts to what he is going through. This isn't a movie about giant bombs and rockets. It's about the tears and rips in the human psyche when it's pushed beyond all limits.

I do have to admit that a scene where Marco (Sinatra) is approached on the train by an attractive woman seems fairly ridiculous to me. It immediately brought to mind the scene from North by Northwest when Grant is approached by the uber-sexy Saint and she pretty much says "hello, sleep with me." Sinatra gets almost the same treatment, and it seemed very over the top. Maybe this is what filmmakers felt happened routinely to any man who stepped onto a train in those days.

Another issue strikes me as quite odd. We have three quite powerful females in this story. Shaw's mother is immensely powerful, a force to be reckoned with. Shaw's love, Parrish, is willing to be with him despite the forces that stand in their way. And Marco's bizarre-trusting woman, Leigh, is there by his side. But those three women never interact at all. Their only purpose in the story is to support and interact with their men. Each one is there to bolster their man and push him along to his destination.

I don't think in the story that any woman ever talks to another woman. They all are sidelines to their men.

It's intriguing to note that this was apparently one of the first ever movies to feature karate style fighting in it. The style seems so normal today, but back in 1962 it was an unusual thing.

Highly recommended, both for its historical value and for simply being a fascinating movie with a powerful storyline and fantastic acting.

Rating: 5/5

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