"Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"

Political thriller released in 1962. It was directed by John Frankenheimer and written by George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon. The stars included Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw, Frank Sinatra as Bennett Marco, Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin, Janet Leigh as Rose Chaney, and James Gregory as Senator Iselin.

Harvey portrays a decorated Korean War veteran who has been secretly brainwashed by Communists -- anytime he sees the Queen of Diamonds, he must obey any command given to him. Gregory is his politically ambitious father, and Lansbury is his even more ambitious mother. Sinatra is an old friend of Harvey's who is trying to save him... but is he also controlled by evil forces?

This is a beautiful, intense, terrifying, mind-trip movie. Made as a comment on the Cold War, it has not lost any of its power in the ensuing decades. Everyone turns in great performances, particularly Harvey, Sinatra, and Lansbury, who was nominated for an Oscar.

Unsurprisingly, the film's highly political nature caused it some problems. Before United Artists optioned Condon's book, Arthur Krim, who was the studio president and the finance chairman of the Democratic Party, worried that the subject matter was inappropriate. As a favor to Sinatra, who was helping to bankroll the project, President John F. Kennedy called Krim to tell him he didn't have a problem with UA making a film of the novel. And after Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Sinatra had the movie pulled from circulation. The movie was banned in Soviet Bloc nations like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as in Finland and Sweden.

Marco: "This is me, Marco, talking. Fifty-two red queens and me are telling you... you know what we're telling you? It's over! The links, the beautifully conditioned links are smashed. They're smashed as of now because we say so, because we say they are to be smashed. We're busting up the joint, we're tearing out all the wires. We're busting it up so good all the queen's horses and all the queen's men will never put old Raymond back together again. You don't work any more! That's an order. Anybody invites you to a game of solitaire, you tell 'em sorry, buster, the ball game is over."

Some research from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)

The Manchurian Candidate - 1962 - Directed by John Frankenheimer

Running Time: 129 minutes. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA. How this was rated PG-13, I don't know, since PG-13 started in the 1980s, and this movie is from 1962. Anyway, that's what it says.

Special Features:

Technical Features:

This DVD isn't overly packed with features, but the interview's pretty cool, and the movie itself kicks ass.

More DVD Reviews

1962's The Manchurian Candidate

A lot–a lot–has been written and said about The Manchurian Candidate, the film that put John Frankenheimer on the map as a director. How effective you'll find the film today depends on your personal level of cynicism.

Candidate–a satire in the truest sense of the word–deliberately sets out to make the viewer uncertain as to whether or not it's supposed to funny. Admittedly, some of the scenes in the film have an aura of comedy about them which I think was intentional, while others–scenes obviously intended to be serious, unintentionally draw chuckles. Laurence Harvey's British accent seems ludicrously out of place for a veteran of the Korean War, especially since he's supposed to be American, but once you get past his voice, you cannot help but admire his rich, complex performance.

The final sequence, filmed in Madison Square Garden, remains one of the most beautifully edited and unbearably suspenseful ever put on film. (Many critics and film scholars credit Frankenheimer as having created the template for the modern political thriller; viewing such films as Candidate, Seven Days in May, Black Sunday, and the recent HBO film The Path to War–which is now Frankenheimer's swan song, and a great one, at that–this accolade seems almost understated.)

Movie Information

Running Time: 126 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay)

Frank Sinatra: Capt./Maj. Bennett Marco
Laurence Harvey: Sgt. Raymond Shaw
Janet Leigh: Eugenie Rose Chaney
Angela Lansbury: Mrs. Iselin
Henry Silva: Chunjin
James Gregory: Sen. John Yerkes Iselin
Leslie Parrish: Jocelyn Jordan
John McGiver: Sen. Thomas Jordan
Khigh Dhiegh: Dr. Yen Lo
James Edwards: Cpl. Alvin Melvin
Douglas Henderson: Col. Milt
Albert Paulsen: Zilkov
Barry Kelley: Secretary of Defense
Lloyd Corrigan: Holborn Gaines
Madame Spivy: Female Berezovo

2004's The Manchurian Candidate

A remake of the 1962 classic was released in July 2004. It's directed by Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs") and stars Denzel Washington in Sinatra's role as Ben Marco, Liev Schreiber in the Laurence Harvey role as Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw.

In this version, U.S. soliders are kidnapped during the Gulf War and brainwashed. The brainwashers use the Manchurian Corporation as their front, thus justifying the retention of the title even though the Chinese are no longer the villains in this remake.

The movie is decent, not nearly as good as the original, but worth watching. Washington is particularly good; he plays Ben Marco as a man who's gradually falling apart, rather than as a square-jawed hero.

Movie Information

Running Time: 130 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cinematographer: Writers: Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay), Daniel Pyne,  Dean Georgaris

Denzel Washington: Ben Marco
Meryl Streep: Eleanor Shaw
Liev Schreiber: Raymond Shaw
Kimberly Elise: Rosie
Vera Farmiga: Jocelyn Jordan
Jon Voight: Senator Thomas Jordan
David Keeley: Anderson
Jeffrey Wright: Al Melvin
Sakina Jaffrey: Mysterious Arabic Woman
Simon McBurney: Noyle
Paul Lazar: Gillespie
Alyson Renaldo: Mirella Freeman
Adam LeFevre: Congressman Healy
Robyn Hitchcock: Laurent Tokar

I saw this movie when it first came out or soon thereafter. It always remained in my memory as a spooky spy thriller with some outstanding camera work. I was thinking of the scenes where there's a 360 effect. However, watching it again this evening after a lifetime of years, there really is no 360 effect like I remembered. I know the scenes I was thinking about, early on in the film, but they are much subtler than I remembered. I thought the scenes went faster, were darker and more claustrophobic. In fact, I realized I didn't remember this movie at all. It was like watching something brand new.

Try to imagine this, youngster. One day many years from now you will say, "Hey, honey. Let's watch Donnie Darko (or) Fight Club," and it will not be anything like you remembered it. You'll discover that the giant rabbit really doesn't eat little Donnie's head while blood shoots out all over the darkened movie theater. And you'll be surprised to find out that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton do not actually split from one body into two separate people in some CGI metacreation. Whether or not you still like either film is up for grabs. I have to tell you; I really liked The Manchurian Candidate, probably more now that I did then. Of course, now we actually have a Communist President as well as a Secretary of State who looks a whole lot like Angela Lansbury in her prime. She's got the barely disguised bitterness down pat, for sure. That's the topical stuff, however. Let me take a minute to discuss the plot structure, because there was something that really annoyed me in an otherwise excellent movie.

My wife had never seen this movie. And, as it turns out, neither had I (as I said), for all practical purposes. But we both had the same reaction when the scene on the train occurs. This is after Frank Sinatra's character has had a sort of meltdown and been told to take some time off and get his shit together. He's on a train to New York and he's in the dining car. He is having trouble lighting a smoke, and this is a real problem in 1962 because it seems as if everyone is smoking almost all the time. This is somewhat ironic, because we were watching Prime Suspect last night while commenting on how Helen Mirren really should spend more time solving the crimes instead of sucking on a fag. But Frank dunks one fag in his iced tea and then drops another while his shaking hands fail to find purchase connecting fag and match. Sweat is popping out on his lip and brow and he finally has a full-blown panic attack and rushes to the back of the train car to stand outside on the platform. All this time, there's been this classy looking blond dame giving him the eye. It's obvious she's hot for ol' Frankie. The problem is, this little interlude with the blond dame has absolutely nothing to do with the pace of the plot. In fact, her behavior is so contrived that both my wife and I said, "What the hell? Is she a double agent or something?" Her dialogue is full of double entendres and witty comebacks that do not fit the mood at all. She feeds him her telephone number as if it were some sort of robotic spy vs. spy code speak. There could be no explanation for this scene other than some sort of subterfuge. When the film was over and we were discussing it, we both came back to this scene. What could be the reason this five minutes or so was thrown into an otherwise almost perfect script? How could this weird chick turn out to be a love interest who is randomly introduced and just as randomly dismissed for the rest of the film? And then I realized what had happened.

Do you have any idea how much pussy Frank Sinatra got during his career? Warner Brothers even made a cartoon about it. When you've got Warner Brothers honoring your prowess at getting laid, that's about as good as it gets for a manly man. (In the cartoon, called "Swooner Crooner," the bone-thin crooner is a rooster on Porky Pig's farm. His vocal prowess causes the eggs to pile up like time lapse anthills.) So what happens to a manly man when he's at Frank's age in this film and he's given a script to read that is probably one of the best vehicles he's ever been offered?

Well, if it doesn't have a dame in it for the gangster wannabee, I can tell you exactly what happens. He will say something like this:

"You know, Johnny Boy, this flick looks cool on paper. I dig it, man. But where's the broad? That limey frocio Larry gets a broad. And she's a keeper, man. I like a classy little blond. I'd do her in a New York second.

"But you got me here in this role and there ain't a broad in sight. What the fuck? I mean, seriously. What the fuck?"

And the director and the writer say, "Well, Frankie, we didn't feel as if it would add to the storyline, and we're already almost at the two hour mark. You know that's as long as we can hold an audience if we want this thing to go anywhere big."

Frank Sinatra stands up and points a cigarette right in their faces and says, "Look, you mooks. You get me a bitch that falls for me or you can shove this part up you asses. Better yet, have her fall for me when I'm at my worst. And make her a blond. Capiche?"


ADDENDUM: I've been told by more than one user that the character I'm complaining about actually does appear in the novel. So it's not as if the screenwriter fabricated her out of whole cloth. However, this does not erase the fact that the way she's introduced in the film is jarring and likely unnecessary to the plot line, IMHO. It does, however, likely blow my theory about Frank's demands.

My own piece in the Manchurian puzzle is small, but perhaps, telling.
Scene: a New England Federalist house, with Mamie and me watching TV. She is the head of her garden club, and steward to a quarter acre of prime suburban real estate.
Time: sometime in the early Eighties.

We're watching the movie, and the North Korean bad guy is covering up the indoctrination with a lecture about hydrangeas.

Now, in this house, hydrangeas are a big deal. We have one of the few (at least then) Blue Lace Hydrangeas in the world, growing in our garden, along with a few extremely rare roses, all those insanely pretty flowers you see in early 20th century kid's book illustration, and a prickly pear cactus. (Yup. In Connnecticut. Makes tunas. Lies down and sleeps in the winter, too.)

Mamie:Hand me the White Flower Farm catalogue.
I do so.
She ruffles through, and hands it to me.
It's the same thing. The exact same words, to the letter.

Seed catalogues were, at that time, notorious for what we would call copypasta: year to year, the same text would appear, sometimes with humorous results. Not only that, but the White Flower Farm catalog, the absolute tops of mid-century horticulture, was known to be written by the wives of The New Yorker staff, including Edward B. White's wife.

Conspiracy theorists, take note.

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