The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

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The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate (1962 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Frankenheimer
Screenplay byGeorge Axelrod
Based onThe Manchurian Candidate
1959 novel
by Richard Condon
Produced by
  • George Axelrod
  • John Frankenheimer
Narrated byPaul Frees[1]
CinematographyLionel Lindon
Edited byFerris Webster
Music byDavid Amram
Color processBlack and white
M.C. Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 24, 1962 (1962-10-24)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.2 million[2]
Box office$7.7 million[3]

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 American neo-noir psychological political thriller film directed and produced by John Frankenheimer. The screenplay is by George Axelrod, based on the 1959 Richard Condon novel The Manchurian Candidate. The film's leading actors are Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, with co-stars Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, and James Gregory.[4]

The plot centers on Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw, part of a prominent political family. Shaw is brainwashed by communists after his Army platoon is captured. He returns to civilian life in the United States, where he becomes an unwitting assassin in an international communist conspiracy. The group, which includes representatives of the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, plans to assassinate the presidential nominee of an American political party leading to the overthrow of the U.S. government.

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 widely acclaimed by Western critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury) and Best Editing. It 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".[5][6]


Soviet and Chinese soldiers capture a U.S. Army platoon during the Korean War, taking them to communist China. Three days later, Sergeant Raymond Shaw and Captain Bennett Marco return to UN lines. Upon Marco's recommendation, Shaw is awarded the Medal of Honor for saving his soldiers' lives in combat, though two men were killed in action. Shaw returns to the U.S., where his heroism is exploited by his mother, Eleanor Iselin, to further the career of her husband, Senator John Iselin. When asked to describe Shaw, the other soldiers in his unit respond, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." In contrast to this description, Shaw is a cold, sad, unsympathetic loner.

After Marco is promoted to major and assigned to Army Intelligence, he has a recurring nightmare: a hypnotized Shaw blithely murders the two soldiers from his own platoon before an assembly of communist military leaders to demonstrate their revolutionary brainwashing technique. Marco learns that another soldier from the platoon, Allen Melvin, has the same nightmare. When Melvin and he separately identify photos of the same two men—leading figures in communist governments—from their dreams, Army Intelligence agrees to help Marco investigate.

Shaw with Major Marco after jumping into a lake in Central Park when his programming was accidentally triggered

During captivity, Shaw was programmed as a sleeper agent, who obeys orders to kill without any memory of his crimes. His battle heroism is a false memory implanted during the brainwashing. Agents trigger Shaw by suggesting he play solitaire; the queen of diamonds activates him. Eleanor masterminds the ascent of John, a demagogue who makes baseless claims that communists work at the Defense Department. Shaw repudiates his mother and stepfather by taking a job at a newspaper published by their critic, Holborn Gaines. Communist agents have Shaw murder Gaines to confirm that his brainwashing still works.

Chunjin, a Korean agent who posed as a guide for Shaw's platoon, comes to Shaw's apartment asking him for work. The unsuspecting Shaw hires him as a valet and cook. Marco recognizes Chunjin when he visits Shaw's apartment; he violently attacks him and demands to know what happened during the platoon's captivity. After Marco is arrested for assault, Eugenie Cheyney, a woman he met on a train, posts his bail and breaks her engagement to date him.

Shaw rekindles a romance with Jocelyn Jordan, the daughter of liberal Senator Thomas Jordan, the Iselins' chief political foe. Eleanor arranges their reunion to garner Senator Jordan's support for John's vice-presidential bid. Unswayed, Jordan insists he will block Iselin's attempts to seek the party's nomination. After Jocelyn inadvertently triggers Shaw's programming by wearing a queen of diamonds costume at a party for her thrown by the Iselins, they elope. Furious at Senator Jordan's rebuff, Eleanor—who is Shaw's American handler—sends him to kill Jordan at his home. Shaw also kills Jocelyn when she stumbles upon the murder scene. Afterward, he has no memory of the killing and is grief-stricken upon learning they are dead.

After discovering the card's role in Shaw's conditioning, Marco uses a forced deck to deprogram him, hoping he will reveal his next assignment. Eleanor primes Shaw to assassinate their party's presidential nominee at the height of its convention so that Iselin, as the vice-presidential candidate, will become the nominee by default. In the uproar, he will seek emergency powers to establish a strict authoritarian regime. Eleanor tells Shaw that she requested a programmed assassin, never knowing it would be her own son. She vows that when she takes power, she will exact revenge upon her superiors for selecting him.

Shaw enters Madison Square Garden disguised as a priest, taking up a sniper's position in an empty spotlight booth high above. Marco and his supervisor, Colonel Milt, race to the convention to stop him. At the last moment, Shaw aims away from the presidential nominee and instead kills Senator Iselin and Eleanor. When Marco arrives inside the lighting booth, Shaw tells him that not even the Army could have stopped them, so he had to. Then Shaw, wearing the Medal of Honor around his neck, commits suicide. That evening, Marco, speaking to Eugenie privately, mourns Shaw's death.



Sinatra suggested Lucille Ball for the role of Eleanor Iselin, but Frankenheimer, who had worked with Lansbury in All Fall Down,[7] insisted that Sinatra watch her performance in that film before a final choice was made. Although Lansbury played Raymond Shaw's mother, she was, in fact, only three years older than Laurence Harvey, who played Shaw. An early scene in which Shaw, recently decorated with the Medal of Honor, argues with his parents was filmed in Sinatra's own private plane.[7]

Janet Leigh plays Marco's love interest. In a short biography of Leigh broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, actress Jamie Lee Curtis reveals her mother had been served divorce papers on behalf of her father, actor Tony Curtis, the morning that the scene where Marco and her character first meet on a train was filmed.

In the scene where Marco attempts to deprogram Shaw in a hotel room opposite the convention, Sinatra is at times slightly out of focus. It was a first take, and Sinatra failed to be as effective in subsequent retakes, a common factor in his film performances.[8] In the end, Frankenheimer elected to use the out-of-focus take. Critics subsequently praised him for showing Marco from Shaw's distorted point of view.[7][8]

In the novel, Eleanor Iselin's father had sexually abused her as a child. Before the dramatic climax, she uses her son's brainwashing to have sex with him. Concerned with the reaction to even a reference to a taboo topic like incest in a mainstream film at that time, the filmmakers instead had Eleanor kiss Shaw on the lips to imply her incestuous attraction to him.[7]

Nearly half the film's $2.2 million production budget went to Sinatra's salary for his performance.[9]


Critical response[edit]

Film critic Roger Ebert listed The Manchurian Candidate on 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".[10]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Manchurian Candidate holds an approval rating of 97% rating based on 60 reviews, with an average rating of 8.70/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "A classic blend of satire and political thriller that was uncomfortably prescient in its own time, The Manchurian Candidate remains distressingly relevant today."[11] On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the film has a score of 94 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[12]

Awards and honours[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[13] Best Supporting Actress Angela Lansbury Nominated
Best Film Editing Ferris Webster Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[14] Best Film from any Source Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[15] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures John Frankenheimer Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[16] Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Angela Lansbury Won
Best Director – Motion Picture John Frankenheimer Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Action Drama Nominated
Top Action Performance Frank Sinatra Nominated
Top Female Supporting Performance Angela Lansbury Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[17] Best Supporting Actress Angela Lansbury (Also for All Fall Down) Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
Producers Guild of America Awards PGA Hall of Fame – Motion Pictures Won

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".[18] The film ranked 67th on the "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies" when that list was first compiled in 1998, but a 2007 revised version excluded it. It was 17th on AFI's "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills" lists. In April 2007, Lansbury's character was selected by Time as one of the 25 greatest villains in cinema history.[19]


According to a false rumor, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. Michael Schlesinger, who was responsible for the film's 1988 reissue by MGM/UA, has helped debunk the rumour. According to him, the film was not removed, but public interest in it was small immediately before the assassination. [20] The autumn 1962 release had run its course. Box-office successes in the U.S. immediately before the shootings in Dallas were comedies, notably It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and movie distributors avoided reviving a thriller with a bleak ending that millions of people had seen barely a year earlier.[20] Newspaper display ads indicate that after the assassination, The Manchurian Candidate was not rereleased as frequently or as widely as other 1962 movies, but it was indeed revived and never banned. The movie played at a Brooklyn cinema two months after the assassination (January 1964), and that same month, in White Plains[21] and Jersey City, New Jersey.[22] It was televised nationwide on CBS Thursday Night at the Movies on September 16, 1965.

Sinatra's representatives acquired rights to the film in 1972 after the initial contract with United Artists expired.[20] The film was rebroadcast on nationwide television in April 1974 on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies.[23] After a showing at the New York Film Festival in 1987 increased public interest in the film, the studio reacquired the rights and it became again available for theater and video releases.[20][24]

See also[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. Archived from the original on April 3, 2017. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  2. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate Still Shocks After All These Years". Archived from the original on 2018-03-19. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  3. ^ Box Office Information for The Manchurian Candidate. Archived January 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine The Numbers. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  4. ^ Macek, Carl; McGarry, Eileen (1996). Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth (eds.). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. New York City, Woodstock, NY & London: Overlook Press. pp. 183–84.
  5. ^ "25 Films Added to National Registry (Published 1994)". The New York Times. November 15, 1994. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  6. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved November 15, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d Director John Frankenheimer's audio commentary, available on The Manchurian Candidate DVD
  8. ^ a b Lovell, Glen (May 28, 1998). "'Manchurian' revolt: Frankenheimer offers Sinatra revelations on DVD". Archived from the original on April 17, 2021. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  9. ^ Mann, Roderick (February 12, 1988). "The Return of 'The Manchurian Candidate': Classic Re-Released After Long Disputes". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 10, 2021. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 7, 2003). "Great Movie: The Manchurian Candidate". Archived from the original on April 27, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  11. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate (1962)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on December 12, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  12. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate Reviews". Metacritic (CBS Interactive). Archived from the original on April 17, 2018. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  13. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-23.
  14. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1963". BAFTA. 1963. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  15. ^ "15th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  16. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  17. ^ "1962 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ The Manchurian Candidate, One of 25 Films Added to National Registry. Archived March 26, 2018, at the Wayback Machine The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2012.
  19. ^ Corliss, Richard (April 25, 2007). "Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin". Time. Archived from the original on June 22, 2018. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
  20. ^ a b c d Schlesinger, Michael (2008-01-27). "A 'Manchurian' myth". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 9, 2010. Retrieved January 28, 2008.
  21. ^ "Movie Timetable." Tarrytown (NY) Daily News, 16 January 1964.
  22. ^ "Movie Time Table [sic]." Summit (NJ) Herald, 16 January 1964.
  23. ^ "Prime-time network TV listings for Saturday April 27, 1974". Archived from the original on March 27, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  24. ^ Santopietro, Tom (2009). Sinatra in Hollywood. Macmillan. pp. 324–326. ISBN 9781429964746. Archived from the original on July 6, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2016.

External links[edit]