The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

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This article is about the original 1962 film. For the 2004 remake, see The Manchurian Candidate (2004 film).
The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate 1962 movie.jpg
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by
Screenplay by George Axelrod
Based on The Manchurian Candidate
by Richard Condon
Narrated by Paul Frees[citation needed]
Music by David Amram
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by Ferris Webster
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • October 24, 1962 (1962-10-24)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.2 million[citation needed]
Box office $7.7 million (domestic)[1]

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 American black-and-white Cold War neo-noir suspense thriller, produced by George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer, directed by John Frankenheimer, and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Janet Leigh; co-starring are Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, and James Gregory. The screenplay by George Axelrod is based on the 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon.

The Manchurian Candidate concerns the brainwashing of the son of a prominent right-wing political family, who becomes an unwitting assassin in an international communist conspiracy. The film was released in the United States on October 24, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was well-received and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

The Manchurian Candidate was selected in 1994 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


During the Korean War, the Soviets capture a U.S. platoon and take them to Manchuria in Communist China. Some days later, all but two of the soldiers return to the U.S. lines and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is credited with saving their lives in combat by his fellow platoon members. Upon the recommendation of the platoon's commander, Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Raymond is awarded the Medal of Honor. When asked to describe him, Marco and the other soldiers automatically respond, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Deep down, however, they know that Shaw is a cold, sad, unsympathetic loner.

Following his return to America, Marco, who has since been promoted to major, suffers from a recurring nightmare in which a hypnotized Shaw blithely and brutally murders the two missing soldiers before an assembly of military brass from the Communist nations, during a practical demonstration of a revolutionary brainwashing technique. Marco wants to investigate, but has no solid evidence to back his claims and thus receives no support from Army Intelligence. However, Marco learns that another soldier from the platoon, Allen Melvin (James Edwards), has had the same nightmare. When Melvin and Marco separately identify some of the men in the dream as leading figures in communist governments, Army Intelligence agrees to help Marco investigate.

Sgt. Shaw (Harvey, left) meets Major Marco (Sinatra, right), after having jumped into a lake in Central Park, New York.

Meanwhile, Shaw's mother, Mrs. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), drives the political career of her husband and Shaw's stepfather, Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), a McCarthy-like demagogue who is widely dismissed as a fool. Senator Iselin raises his political profile when he claims that varying numbers of communists work within the Department of Defense. However, unknown to Raymond, Mrs. Iselin herself is actually a Communist agent with a plan intended to secure the presidency under Communist influence.

Mrs. Iselin is the American operator responsible for controlling Raymond, who was "brainwashed" in Manchuria to be an unwitting assassin whose programming is triggered by a Queen of Diamonds playing card. When he sees it, he will blindly obey the next suggestion or order given to him and never have any memories of those actions. It is revealed that Shaw's heroism was a "false memory" implanted in the platoon during their brainwashing, and that the actions for which Shaw was awarded his Medal of Honor never took place. Shaw's conditioning is reinforced by Chunjin (Henry Silva), a North Korean agent who supervises him under the guise of his cook and houseboy. When Marco visits Shaw's apartment, he becomes suspicious of the Korean and they engage in a fight using karate techniques.

Raymond briefly finds happiness when he rekindles a youthful romance with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), the daughter of Senator Thomas Jordan (John McGiver), one of his stepfather's political rivals. Mrs. Iselin had previously broken up the relationship, but now facilitates the couple's reunion as part of her scheme to garner Jordan's support for her husband's bid for Vice President. Jocelyn, wearing a Queen of Diamonds costume, inadvertently triggers Raymond's programming at a costume party and elopes with him. Although pleased with the match, Jordan makes it clear that he will block Senator Iselin's nomination. Mrs. Iselin triggers Raymond and sends him to kill Jordan; he also shoots Jocelyn when she happens upon the scene. Afterwards, Raymond has no knowledge of his actions and is grief-stricken when he learns of the murders.

After discovering the card's role in Raymond's conditioning, Marco uses a forced deck to get the full story. He then verbally drills into Raymond the suggestion or affirmation that the Queen of Diamonds no longer has any power over him. Mrs. Iselin primes her son to assassinate their party's presidential nominee at the nomination convention so that Senator Iselin, as the vice-presidential candidate, will become the nominee by default and be elected with emergency powers that, in Mrs. Iselin's words, "will make martial law seem like anarchy." Mrs. Iselin tells Raymond that she did not know that he was to be selected by the Communists, but vows that once in power she will "grind them into the dirt" in revenge.

Marco's attempt to free Raymond from his brainwashing appears to have failed, and Raymond enters Madison Square Garden disguised as a priest and takes position to carry out the assassination. Marco and his supervisor, Colonel Milt (Douglas Henderson), arrive at the convention to stop him. As the nominee makes his speech, Raymond, instead of assassinating him, shoots his stepfather and then his mother with the sniper rifle she gave him. He then commits suicide in front of Marco while wearing his Medal of Honor. Marco, in the film's final scene, reads the (real) Medal of Honor citations of Daniel R. Edwards and Nelson M. Holderman, before voicing a fictional citation for Raymond's genuine act of heroism in stopping the Iselins.



For the role of Mrs. Iselin, Sinatra had considered Lucille Ball, but Frankenheimer, who had worked with Lansbury in All Fall Down, suggested her for the part[2] and insisted that Sinatra watch the film before making any decisions. (Although Lansbury played Raymond Shaw's mother, she was in fact only three years older than actor Laurence Harvey.)

An early scene where Raymond, recently decorated with the Medal of Honor, argues with his parents was filmed in Sinatra's own private plane.[2]

Janet Leigh plays Marco's love interest. A bizarre conversation on a train between her character and Marco has been interpreted by some, notably film critic Roger Ebert,[3][4] as implying that Leigh's character, Eugenie Rose Cheyney, is working for the Communists to activate Marco's brainwashing, much as the Queen of Diamonds activates Shaw's. It is a jarring, fascinating and strange conversation between people who have only just met, which some people, including Ebert, suspect may be an exchange of passwords. Others saw it as pick-up banter between two intelligent and sexy people. During their conversation, Leigh's character provides Sinatra with her address in Manhattan, 53 West 54th Street, Apartment 3B, and her telephone number, Eldorado 5-9970 (in the book, her telephone number is Eldorado 9-2632). Frankenheimer himself maintained that he had no idea whether or not "Rosie" was supposed to be an agent of any sort; he merely lifted the train conversation straight from the Condon novel, in which there is no such implication.[2] The rest of the film does not elaborate on Rosie's part, and later scenes suggest that she is simply a romantic foil for Marco, hence a MacGuffin.

In a short biographical commercial of her mother Janet Leigh filmed for Turner Classic Movies, Jamie Lee Curtis has stated that Leigh's then husband Tony Curtis served her with divorce papers the morning before the train scene was filmed. The dialogue includes her asking Sinatra's character "Are you married?" He replies "No... You?", to which she responds with a quick "No", followed by a long, pensive stare.

During the fight scene between Frank Sinatra and Henry Silva, Sinatra broke his hand during a movement where he smashed through a table. This resulted in problems with his hand/fingers for several years and is said to be one of the reasons why he pulled out of a starring role in Dirty Harry, having to undertake surgery to alleviate pains.

The interrogation sequence where Raymond and Marco confront each other in the hotel room opposite the convention is from a rough cut. When first filmed, Sinatra was out of focus, and when they tried to re-shoot the scene he was simply not as effective as he had been in the first take, a common factor in Sinatra's film performances. Frustrated, Frankenheimer decided in the end to simply use the original out-of-focus takes. Critics praised him for showing Marco from Raymond's distorted point of view.[2]

In the novel Mrs. Iselin uses her son's brainwashing to have sex with him before the dramatic climax. Concerned that censors would not allow even a reference to such a taboo subject in a mainstream motion picture of the time, the filmmakers instead opted for Mrs. Iselin to simply kiss Raymond on the lips to imply her incestuous attraction to him.[2]

For the scene in the convention hall prior to the assassination, Frankenheimer was at a loss as to how Marco would pinpoint Raymond Shaw's sniper's nest. Eventually, he decided on a method similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). Frankenheimer noted that what would be plagiarism in the 1960s would now be looked upon as an homage.[2]

Frankenheimer also acknowledged the climax's connection with Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 and 1956) by naming the Presidential candidate "Benjamin Arthur". Arthur Benjamin was the composer of the Storm Clouds Cantata used in both versions of Hitchcock's film.

Ben Stiller used the main story outline for the 2001 comedy film Zoolander.


According to rumor, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Michael Schlesinger, who was responsible for the film's 1988 reissue by MGM/UA, denies the rumor. According to him, the film's apparent withdrawal was not due to the assassination, but by 1963 the movie had simply played out (in those days it could take a film months to play across the country).[5] The film became the premiere offering of The CBS Thursday Night Movie on the evening of September 16, 1965, and was rerun in April 1974 on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies.[6] Sinatra's representatives reacquired the rights in 1972 after the initial ten-year contract with United Artists expired. After two successful showings at the New York Film Festival in 1987 renewed public interest in the film, the studio reacquired the rights and it became again available for theater and video releases.[5][7]


Critical response[edit]

The Manchurian Candidate has a 98% rating at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 49 reviews, which summarizes it as "a classic blend of satire and political thriller that was uncomfortably prescient in its own time".[8] Film critic Roger Ebert ranked The Manchurian Candidate as an exemplary "Great Film", declaring that it is "inventive and frisky, takes enormous chances with the audience, and plays not like a 'classic' but as a work as alive and smart as when it was first released".[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, and Ferris Webster was nominated for Best Film Editing. In addition Lansbury was named Best Supporting Actress by the National Board of Review and won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

The film was No. 67 on the AFI's "100 Years...100 Movies" when that list was compiled in 1998, but in 2007 a new version of that list was made which excluded The Manchurian Candidate. It was also No. 17 on AFI's "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills" lists. In 1994 The Manchurian Candidate was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[9]

In April 2007 Angela Lansbury's character was selected by Newsweek as one of the ten greatest villains in cinema history.

American Film Institute recognition[edit]

DVD commentary[edit]

On the DVD audio commentary, the director stated his belief that it contained the first-ever karate fight in an American motion picture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for The Manchurian Candidate. The Numbers. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Director John Frankenheimer's audio commentary, available on The Manchurian Candidate DVD
  3. ^ a b "The Manchurian Candidate :: :: Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  4. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  5. ^ a b Schlesinger, Michael (2008-01-27). "A 'Manchurian' myth". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Santopietro, Tom (2009). Sinatra in Hollywood. Macmillan. pp. 324–326. ISBN 9781429964746. 
  8. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". 
  9. ^ The Manchurian Candidate, One of 25 Films Added to National Registry. The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2012.

External links[edit]