Take a trip back in time with the UK re-release of an eerily prescient Cold War paranoia thriller.
Released just a year before the assassination of one John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963 (by a lone, crazy gunman with a grudge against the world and a Magic Bullet, remember?), and then removed from circulation for several years after the events in Dallas – can’t imagine why – John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is, along with Seconds (1966) this great director’s finest film and one of the best political-conspiracy thrillers ever committed to celluloid.
Well, another week, another re-release: a freshly remastered print of Frankenheimer’s creepy adaptation of Ricard Condon’s novel will soon be hitting UK projectors and, as usual, your faithful correspondent is on hand to tell you why you really do need a ticket.
Well, to begin, there’s a reasonable chance, one supposes, that you might not even have yet seen it. Unlike Psycho (1960), which received the re-release rave treatment from yours truly recently, The Manchurian Candidate (like Seconds, in fact) is a film that’s only rarely screened, even today. That it is a uniquely unsettling and subversive examination of how the far right can be made the tool of the far left may well have something to do with it – Jonathan Demme essayed a competent remake in 2004, but it had none of the genuinely nightmarish power of Frankenheimer’s original.
Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is an insufferable man; a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, back from the Korean War, he’s doing everything he can to distance himself from his domineering mother, Mrs Iselin (Angela Lansbury) Iselin, in turn, is fighting tooth and nail to elevate the political status of her husband, Shaw’s stepfather Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), a ‘better dead than Red’ anti-Communist who’s clearly modelled on Joseph McCarthy.
Shaw’s Commanding Officer Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra), however, has been having recurring nightmares that give him cause to doubt whether the alleged circumstances that led to Raymond winning the medal are true – that his entire platoon has in fact been brainwashed, and that Shaw is set to play the central role in a diabolical conspiracy. But how could that be?
After all, as Marco says, every single time that he is asked, almost by rote: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life…”
With a performance from Lansbury that gives new meaning to evil, Harvey chillingly convincing, Sinatra (along with his love Janet Leigh) entirely credible as the film’s only traces of warmth and an ending that will knock your socks off, this is the real deal. Don’t miss it.