The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate. United Artists 1962.

Before watching the movie:

I think I’ve heard once or twice that Frank Sinatra stars in this, but I forgot it. It’s still strange to think about him as a legendary actor as well as a legendary singer.

There was a remake in 2004, which was probably the wrong time for a remake. I wonder if anyone with say-so is considering making it again. Some would argue it’s being remade right in front of us.

After watching the movie:

In 1952, an army company in the Korean War was lost behind event lines. A few days later, they returned, telling a story of Sgt. Raymond Shaw’s heroics that gets him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Coming home, Shaw is put back in his bitter relationship with his anti-communist mother and inept but vocal anti-communist Senator stepfather. But Major Ben Marco has been haunted by nightmares of being captured and hypnotized by Eastern Communists that always focus on Shaw being ordered to do horrific things, nightmares that have been leading him to breakdown until he learns of others in the company having the same dreams.  Marco has to answer his questions of what happened that night and why before the Queen of Diamonds leads Shaw to the ultimate purpose that he has been prepared for.

This seems to have popularized the idea of hypnotically programmed killers among us, and even mentions the idea that it’s impossible to hypnotize someone into defying their beliefs in order to dismiss it. While as far as I know, that is actually true, brainwashing works on a much deeper level to actually change a person’s nature, which could conceivably be combined with hypnotic suggestion to create a dispassionate, amnesiac assassin. However, I’m pretty sure most sleeper agents are just people who already believed in the cause under deep cover waiting for their signal. Much easier to manage, though I think there’s a problem with such agents going native.

Marco has a romantic subplot with the top-billed woman on the poster, but his relationship with her is at best irrelevant and at times confusing. She pretty much comes into his life and decides she lives there now for no apparent reason, and this has no bearing on anything else that happens. I’m much more interested in Shaw’s relationship with Jocelyn, which makes a character that has so far been very cold a lot more sympathetic.

It seems like Angela Lansbury has always been an Older Woman on screen. I think this is the earliest thing I’ve seen her in and she’s already playing the mother of an adult son. Thirty years later she wasn’t playing much older.

At the heart of the plot, there could have been some more exploration of how often the exact people who portray themselves as the saviors of popular values are the ones who were always working for their own goals. The revelation is meant to be a shocking twist, but for some in politics, there is only power, and ideologies merely the tools to seize it. Therefore, especially in these more cynical times, it is easy to connect the dots and find that secret alliances aren’t as antithetical as they may appear. Moreover, the relatively simple way the conspirators plan to sway the electorate contains volumes of criticism of the weakest link in democracy. But in the end, this isn’t actually a political drama, it’s a psychological thriller. One for its age perhaps more than ours.


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2 thoughts on “The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

  1. Mark Wood March 25, 2017 / 7:56 pm

    Re: Angela Lansbury, I would place her character Eglantine Price (_Bedknobs and Broomsticks_) as “thirtysomething” and I could be argued down a bit.

    • temporalparadox March 30, 2017 / 10:49 am

      A quick lookup I didn’t do when I was writing shows that Bedknobs and Broomsticks was nine years after this. I thought it was closer to five.

      I always read Eglantine as a spinster, but young for a spinster, so mid- to late-thirties. Considering that people got married younger in the 40s, I could be persuaded she’s in her late 20s. She still seems like if she’d had children at a typical age, they’d be older than the children she fosters.

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