The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

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The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate 1962 movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by
Screenplay by George Axelrod
Based on The Manchurian Candidate
1959 novel
by Richard Condon
Starring
Narrated by Paul Frees[1]
Music by David Amram
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by Ferris Webster
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • 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)[2]

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 American black and white neo-noir Cold War suspense thriller film scripted by George Axelrod, from the 1959 Richard Condon novel The Manchurian Candidate, produced by Axelrod and John Frankenheimer, directed by Frankenheimer, and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Janet Leigh; co-starring are Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, and James Gregory. The Manchurian Candidate concerns the brainwashing of Raymond Shaw, the son of a prominent political family, who becomes an unwitting assassin in an international communist conspiracy. Government officials from China and the Soviet Union follow Shaw around the world to brainwash him based on their theory that an assassin who has been brainwashed cannot feel fear or guilt.

The film was released in the United States on October 24, 1962, at the height of U.S.-Soviet hostility during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was well-received and was nominated for two Academy Awards. In 1962 it was seen by far fewer people, however, than other classic films released that year such as Lawrence of Arabia, Lolita and The Miracle Worker. 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."

Plot[edit]

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.", even though 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. Mrs. Iselin herself is a communist agent, and 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 order given to him and never have any memories of those actions. Shaw's heroism was a false memory implanted in the platoon during their brainwashing. 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 recognizes Chunjin and assaults him, demanding he explain the events from his nightmare. House staff hear the commotion and restrain Marco.

Raymond 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 in order 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 that the Queen of Diamonds no longer has any power over him, and directs Raymond to call him after the conspirators tell him their plan. 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 he was selected by the communists in order to bind her more closely to their cause, but vows that once in power she will exact revenge.

Raymond enters Madison Square Garden disguised as a priest and takes position. Alarmed by Raymond's failure to call by the appointed time, Marco and his supervisor, Colonel Milt (Douglas Henderson), race to the convention to stop him. As the nominee makes his speech, Raymond, instead of assassinating him, shoots his stepfather and his mother with the sniper rifle she gave him. He did not call so that the army would not interfere with his plan. Marco, arriving too late to stop Raymond, witnesses him commit suicide while wearing his Medal of Honor.

Marco reads the Medal of Honor citations of Daniel R. Edwards and Nelson M. Holderman, before voicing a putative citation for Raymond's genuine act of heroism in stopping the Iselins.[3]

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

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[4] 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 in which Raymond, recently decorated with the Medal of Honor, argues with his parents was filmed in Sinatra's own private plane.[4]

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,[5] as implying that Leigh's character, Eugenie Rose Chaney, is Marco's handler, much as Mrs. Iselin is Shaw's. Others saw it as pick-up banter. 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.[4] 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.

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.

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.[6]

The interrogation sequence in which Raymond and Marco confront each other in the hotel room opposite the convention was the first take. 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 take. Critics praised him for showing Marco from Raymond's distorted point of view.[4]

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.[4]

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.[4]

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.

Releases[edit]

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, which is disproved by microfilmed editions of The New York Times and other American newspapers from the 1960s and 1970s.

According to Schlesinger, the film's disappearance, or what was claimed to be its disappearance, was not due to the assassination but was a result of the movie's initial distribution running its course by November 1963. In those days it could take a film several months to play across the United States.[7] After all the initial screenings were over, a successful American film could resurface more than a year later in drive-ins and other cinemas that booked films that many would-be customers had seen already. Movie listings in The New York Times from January 1964 indicate The Manchurian Candidate was revived at a cinema in Brooklyn, New York at the time, which was two months after the assassination.

The film became the premiere offering of The CBS Thursday Night Movie on the night of September 16, 1965. Though The New York Times was suspended from publication at the time due to a labor strike, hundreds of other daily newspapers throughout the United States ran ads for that night's CBS Thursday Night Movie.

Sinatra's representatives reacquired the rights to The Manchurian Candidate in 1972 after the initial ten-year contract with United Artists expired. Subsequently, it was telecast on April 27, 1974 on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies,[8] verified by that day's editions of many newspapers.

After two successful showings at the New York Film Festival in 1987 renewed public interest in the film and introduced it to a new, younger audience, the studio reacquired the rights and it became available for re-release to cinemas and for the home video market.[7][9]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The Manchurian Candidate has a 98% rating at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 53 reviews, which summarizes it as "a classic blend of satire and political thriller that was uncomfortably prescient in its own time".[10] Film critic Roger Ebert added The Manchurian Candidate to his "Great Movies" list, 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".[11]

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".[12]

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]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jordan, Darran (2015). Green Lantern History: An Unauthorised Guide to the DC Comic Book Series Green Lantern. Sydney, Australia: Eclectica Press. ISBN 978-1-326-13987-2. Retrieved April 2, 2017. 
  2. ^ Box Office Information for The Manchurian Candidate. The Numbers. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  3. ^ "Made to commit acts too unspeakable to be cited here by an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul. He freed himself at last and in the end heroically and unhesitatingly gave his life to save his country. Raymond Shaw."
  4. ^ a b c d e f Director John Frankenheimer's audio commentary, available on The Manchurian Candidate DVD
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 11, 1988). "Review: The Manchurian Candidate". rogerebert.com. 
  6. ^ Moore, Nolan (7 June 2014). "10 Strange Stories About Frank Sinatra". Listverse. Retrieved 4 December 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Schlesinger, Michael (2008-01-27). "A 'Manchurian' myth". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  8. ^ "Prime-time network TV listings for Saturday April 27, 1974". Ultimate70s.com. Retrieved April 2, 2017. 
  9. ^ Santopietro, Tom (2009). Sinatra in Hollywood. Macmillan. pp. 324–326. ISBN 9781429964746. 
  10. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 7, 2003). "Great Movie: The Manchurian Candidate". rogerebert.com. 
  12. ^ The Manchurian Candidate, One of 25 Films Added to National Registry. The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2012.

External links[edit]