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.