The Manchurian Candidate

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Manchurian Candidate at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 3, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville).
Score:

Genre: Political Intrigue Thriller
Director: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, James Gregory
Rated: NR

If it weren’t for some tepid and not very believable action scenes with Frank Sinatra, John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962) might just be the best political thriller ever made. Even with those reservations, this story about communist brainwashing of Korean War soldiers going hand-in-hand with homegrown U.S. perfidy is heady stuff. It must have been even more so in 1962. I can only wonder what audiences made of the film’s startling early sequence where the American prisoners envision their captors as a gathering of a ladies’ garden club. (I saw it back then, but I was too young to have understood much, other than the fact that my parents didn’t like it.) For that matter, did audiences realize that the ineffectual, drunken Sen. Iselin (James Gregory) was a thinly-veiled caricature of witch-hunting Sen. Joe McCarthy? It seems impossible to miss. The really big question, though, was what contemporary audiences made of the charge that people like Iselin—and by extension, McCarthy—were really puppets of the very people they were pledged to destroy? Or that—thriller or not—the film is as much a satire as anything? See it now and see for yourself that this was probably the damndest movie of its time to come out of Hollywood.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

9 thoughts on “The Manchurian Candidate

  1. boatrocker

    Not really one to comment on the movies much, but the Frank Sinatra’s fight scene with the North Korean butler really surprised me when I first saw this movie years ago. Who knew that the Chairman of the Board could doll out a beat down like that?

  2. Ken Hanke

    Who knew that the Chairman of the Board could doll out a beat down like that?

    Even after seeing it, I didn’t exactly believe it.

  3. Who knew that the Chairman of the Board could doll out a beat down like that?

    He took self-defense classes after his baby shot him down and he hit the ground.

  4. boatrocker

    Not believable, obviously, but what a cinematic curve ball. I could never watch “Murder, She Wrote” the same again.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I could never watch “Murder, She Wrote” the same again.

    You know, this was almost certainly my first exposure to Angela Lansbury. Makes me wonder if seeing this at seven imprinted a negative view of her and is the reason I’ve never much liked her.

  6. ScottArtist

    “The Court Jester” with Danny Kaye is the earliest Anela Lansbury movie i’ve seen [and one of my favorite movies of all tyme], but it always freaked me out a bit to see her as a hottie… just felt wrong since i knew her from Murder, She Wrote first…

  7. Ken Hanke

    Oh, I’ve seen her in much earlier movies than this — starting with her first one, Gaslight — but not until I was considerably older than seven.

  8. DrSerizawa

    I saw this when I was 14 and was pretty impressed. I still enjoy it very much as a political thriller of the era. It is certainly more effectively disturbing than other thrillers like “Seven Days In May”. It seems to me that it was incorporating some of the experimental sort of cinematic techniques that became de riguer in the later 60s.

    It’s a good microscope on the world of the late 50s/early 60s. A world where nations were throwing off the yoke of imperialism and too often replacing it with regimes that used mass murder as internal security policy. I think that the America of that time can be forgiven a little paranoia when it was shown in the killing fields of Cambodia that it wasn’t really paranoia at all.

  9. Ken Hanke

    It seems to me that it was incorporating some of the experimental sort of cinematic techniques that became de riguer in the later 60s.

    I think the only thing — technique-wise — that dates it is that the camerawork is still on the academic formal style. The in and out of fantasy of the garden party demonstration was way ahead of its time.

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