The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

(Second viewing, On Cable TV, November 2017) I thought I remembered The Manchurian Candidate from seeing it (on TV, in French) more than two decades ago, but it turns out that I had forgotten quite a bit in the meantime. Which is a good thing, given that I got to re-experience it all over again. A product of the paranoid early sixties (it was famously released shortly before the Cuba Crisis), The Manchurian Candidate delves into far-reaching Russian plots to destabilize the United States through intervention in its politics—but stop me if this is too familiar circa 2017. What I really did not remember from my first viewing is how early we know of the Russian brainwashing, and the delightfully crazy way in which this is explained, through a dream sequence that switches between real and imagined environments. After that, it’s up to Frank Sinatra as the protagonist to get Laurence Harvey (as the tragic anti-hero) to reject his condition. There are complications. While The Manchurian Candidate remains a clear product of its time, director John Frankenheimer keeps things moving, and the fascinating glimpse at early-sixties contemporary reality is now fascinating and proof that the film has aged well. It even takes potshots at McCarthyism. Sinatra is quite good in a relatively straightforward role, while Angela Lansbury is surprisingly evil as a scheming mother. Better yet, the film itself is a crackling good thriller with interweaving subplots and good character performances. While much of The Manchurian Candidate will feel stiff by today’s standard (and occasionally silly or misleading, such as Sinatra’s character love interest), it remains compelling today and well worth another look.

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