The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

"The Manchurian Candidate" is a nasty picture. A hopelessly irreverent movie that preyed on the fears of a nation during a time of distress. It is also a masterpiece, a visionary tour de force that balances that hilarious oddity of its source material with a deadly precession and ruthless determination.
During the Korean War, men are taken prisoner before the main titles run up. They seem to have been kidnapped, though the lack of dialogue makes it subjective for the viewer for the time being. Later on, everything is explained; but for much of the first half of the movie, the viewer is two steps behind.
Major Bennet Marco (Frank Sinatra) is having nightmares. He dreams of his time spent in Korea. He dreams of monstrosities. He dreams of death. He is not alone in his dreams, another soldier is having the same dreams...the exact same. These dreams involve Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey with cheek bones and chin that look as sharp as a knife) a man recently decorated with the Medal of Honor. A narrator tells us some of the facts concerning the Medal of Honor with a voice that copies the noir paranoia perfects, and then the voice mysteriously disappears, fading out of the film. While I usually have complaints for people who don't use a narrator the entire way through a film, in "The Manchurian Candidate" you can't help but think that everything has a purpose. The fading narrator was intentional, this much is my opinion.
Raymond Shaw is not a pleasant man to get along with; but his mother and step-father (his biological father makes no appearance in the film, so we are to presume that he ran away or is dead) are even less pleasant than he. Returning home a hero with the Medal of Honor draped around his neck, Shaw is attacked by the press; but his mother's presence doesn't help the madness. She brings banners and paparazzi to takes pictures of Raymond with his stepfather Senator John Iselin (James Gregory). The senator is trying to capitalize on Raymond's military heroism to earn him more votes. After all, it's almost nearing the time of elections.
Raymond despises his stepfather and doesn't spare himself the opportunity to unleash terribly horrid sentiments at the man at every opportunity. But as much as Iselin is an odd figure, who lets the world know that Communism is alive and well even within the American government (his accusations are what actually bring him into contact with Marco) it's Iselin's wife and Raymond's mother, Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) who seems to be pulling all the campaigning strings.
Marco's nights get worse and Raymond's day become hazy.
"The Manchurian Candidate" is by far the oddest and most cerebral picture to come to theaters in mainstream fashion in the early 60s. The tagline for the picture—If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won't know what it's all about! When you've seen it all, you'll swear there's never been anything like it!—although very pretentious, is undeniably true. "The Manchurian Candidate" gives us a rare glimpse of originality. There is nothing ground-breaking about the film; but it does nail down each one of its emotions rigorously.
The story is a little hard to choke down, considering how blatantly goofy it may appear when all revealed; but I assure you that "The Manchurian Candidate" never falters.
The thought of Communism is high, the susceptibility of the mind of man is at question and the bad guys seem to have an easy win.
Frank Sinatra is probably the reason the film saw some success, though not as much as it does now. He was the big name that helped usher in other big names like Janet Leigh (who is remarkably non-present for most of the film). But it is Angela Lansbury who is stunning in the film. She is chilling and the most formidable character in the film.
"The Manchurian Candidate" is celluloid gold.

Score: ★★★★

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