The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

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The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate (1962 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Screenplay by George Axelrod
Based on The Manchurian Candidate
1959 novel
by Richard Condon
Produced by
  • George Axelrod
  • John Frankenheimer
Starring
Narrated by Paul Frees [1]
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by Ferris Webster
Music by David Amram
Color process Black and white
Production
company
M.C. Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • October 24, 1962 (1962-10-24)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2.2 million [2]
Box office$7.7 million [3] or $3.3 million (US/Canada) [4]
The film's trailer

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. [5]

Contents

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, with the death 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". [6] [7]

Plot

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 "Ben" 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. Shaw returns to the U.S., where his mother, Eleanor Iselin, exploits his heroism to further the political career of her husband, Senator John Iselin. When asked to describe Shaw, two soldiers in his unit uniformly respond that he is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being they have ever known. In fact, Shaw is a strict, cold, unsympathetic loner hated by his men.

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

Shaw with Major Marco after jumping into a lake in Central Park when his programming was accidentally triggered Sinatra and Harvey in Manchurian Candidate NYWTS.jpg
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 and immediately forgets having done so. His heroism is a false memory implanted during the brainwashing. Agents trigger Shaw by suggesting he play solitaire; the queen of diamonds activates him. Meanwhile, Eleanor is masterminding John's political ascent with his baseless claims that communists work at the Defense Department. To spite his mother and stepfather, Shaw takes a job at a newspaper published by Holborn Gaines, Iselin's harshest critic. Communist agents later have Shaw murder Gaines to confirm that his brainwashing still works.

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

Shaw rekindles a romance with Jocelyn Jordan, the daughter of liberal Senator Thomas Jordan, the Iselins' chief political foe. Eleanor wants to garner Senator Jordan's support for Iselin's vice-presidential bid. Unswayed, Jordan insists he will oppose the nomination. After Jocelyn inadvertently triggers Shaw's programming by wearing a Queen of Diamonds costume at the Iselins' party, they elope. Furious at Senator Jordan's rebuff, Eleanor—who is Shaw's American "operator" (handler)—sends him to kill Senator Jordan at his home. Shaw also kills Jocelyn when she inadvertently happens upon the murder scene. Having no memory of the killing, Shaw is grief-stricken upon learning they are dead.

After discovering the queen of diamonds card's role in Shaw's conditioning, Marco uses a forced deck to deprogram him, hoping to learn Shaw's next assignment. Eleanor primes Shaw to assassinate their party's presidential nominee during the 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 had requested a programmed assassin, never knowing it would be her own son. When taking power, she vows revenge upon her superiors for choosing him.

Disguised as a priest, Shaw enters Madison Square Garden, taking a sniper's position in a vacant overhead spotlight booth. Marco and his supervisor, Colonel Milt, race to the convention to stop Shaw. At the last moment, Shaw aims away from the presidential nominee and instead kills Senator Iselin and Eleanor. When Marco bursts into the booth, Shaw, wearing the Medal of Honor, says he was the only one who could stop his mother and stepfather, then kills himself. Later that evening with Rosie, Marco mourns Shaw's death.

Cast

Production

Sinatra suggested Lucille Ball for the role of Eleanor Iselin, but Frankenheimer, who had worked with Lansbury in All Fall Down , [8] 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. [8]

Janet Leigh plays Marco's love interest. In a short biography of Leigh broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, her daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, reveals that Leigh 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.[ citation needed ]

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. [9] 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. [8] [9]

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. [8]

Nearly half the film's $2.2 million production budget went to Sinatra's salary for his performance. [10]

Cold War

The Manchurian Candidate has been called one of the most "iconic" films of the cold war period, especially in its discussion of "mind-control." [11] With one of the major plot points being the popular Cold War myth that China was brainwashing US soldiers for communist purposes during the Korean War. [12] Political scientist Michael Rogin further cements the film in this time period by describing it as being "a Kennedy Administration film." Rogin cites Sinatra's character within the film as being a "lonely Kennedy Hero," who works within the army bureaucracy towards reform. [13]

Depiction of communists

In the Garden Scene, pictures of Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin are hung on the wall with a Soviet star in between them and the head of the Manchurian candidates standing beneath the star. This insinuates a collaboration between China and Russia with the goal to manipulate the US for communist world domination. [14] During their demonstration, the communist leaders refer to Raymond as "the mechanism" and "the weapon", which affirms the idea that communists only see people as gadgets that can be thrown away after their use. [14] The film depicts communists as eager to give up their lives, which are expendable in their eyes anyway, for the cause of universal communism, which is a "less than essential end". [14]  

In The Manchurian Candidate, communists are not peers, but instead relate to each other within the hierarchy of communist leaders. For example, there are rows of communist leaders who all look down upon the Manchurian Candidates in the Garden Scene. [14] In addition, Raymond Shaw’s mother only uses those around her, like her son and husband, as pawns in her communist ploy to gain a powerful position through her husband’s candidacy for Vice President of the US. [13] This is juxtaposed with the loving, trusting, and open relationships like those between Shaw and Jocelyn Jordan, and Marco and Cheyney. [14]

Conspiracy theories and US mind control

The Manchurian Candidate uses "science, the conditioned subject, and the moving image" to create a realistic framework for the existence of mind control. [15] Specifically, it plays on the idea of a "covert sphere" of communism within the US, mixing real life events with those out of science fiction. [16] This theme added to the growing suspicion of the US government, redirecting concerns of possible brainwashing toward the homefront. [13] Janja Lalich, a counter-cult sociologist, notes that the term "brainwashing" used by this counterculture movement was first made popular by The Manchurian Candidate. [17] The ever growing fear that anyone, even a decorated soldier like Raymond Shaw, could be coerced unwittingly by communists contributed to the United States’ expansion of their own mind control experiments. [18] In 1975, a little over ten years after the release of The Manchurian Candidate, the fear of a US-funded mind control scheme would come true with the reveal of Project MKUltra, in which the CIA looked to control human behavior through trauma programming and psychoactive drugs starting in the early 1950s and ending in 1973. [19] According to the CIA, "historians have asserted that creating a 'Manchurian Candidate' subject through 'mind control' techniques was a goal of MK-ULTRA and related CIA projects." [20]

Reception

Critical response

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". [21]

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." [22] On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the film has a score of 94 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". [23]

Academic response

Scholars have used The Manchurian Candidate as a window into Cold War paranoia. Professor Catherine Canino claimed that the film fulfilled the prophecies of "the imagined loss of cherished American autonomy and free will". [24] Political scientist Michael Rogin concluded that The Manchurian Candidate "aims to reawaken a lethargic nation to a communist menace". [13] Humanities Center director [Timothy Melley] argued that "The Manchurian Candidate's deepest worry is neither communism nor anticommunism but embattled human autonomy." [16]

Awards and honours

AwardCategoryNominee(s)Result
Academy Awards [25] Best Supporting Actress Angela Lansbury Nominated
Best Film Editing Ferris Webster Nominated
British Academy Film Awards [26] Best Film from any Source Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards [27] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures John Frankenheimer Nominated
Golden Globe Awards [28] Best Director – Motion Picture John FrankenheimerNominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Angela LansburyWon
Laurel Awards Top Action DramaNominated
Top Action Performance Frank Sinatra Nominated
Top Female Supporting PerformanceAngela LansburyNominated
National Board of Review Awards [29] 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 PicturesWon

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". [30] 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. [31]

Releases

According to rumor, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. According to Michael Schlesinger, who was responsible for the film's 1988 reissue by MGM/UA, the film was never removed. [32] Newspaper display ads indicate that after the assassination, The Manchurian Candidate was rereleased less frequently or widely than other 1962 movies, but it was available. The movie played at a Brooklyn cinema in January 1964, and that same month in White Plains, New York, [33] and Jersey City, New Jersey. [34] It was televised nationwide on CBS Thursday Night Movie on September 16, 1965.

Sinatra's representatives acquired rights to the film in 1972 after the initial contract with United Artists expired. [32] The film was rebroadcast on nationwide television in April 1974 on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies . [35] 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. [32] [36]

See also

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