1962’s The Manchurian Candidate remastered by Arrow Films – review

Posted on 6 March 2015
By George Heron
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Arrow Films reissues and remasters the 1962 classic adaptation of the Richard Conlon novel, The Manchurian Candidate. Frank Sinatra stars as an ex-Prisoner of War of the Korean war in the 1950s, Major Bennett Marco.

He’s never been the same since that experience, having recurring dreams about his comrades being killed by a sergeant in his company called Raymond Shaw (an excellent Laurence Harvey).

It transpires that his captors have brainwashed them in aid of a far-reaching political conspiracy to bring Communism into America. Being made in the early 60s, it reaches back to the previous decade and draws inspiration and satire from the McCarthy era and his infamous blacklist.

You could call this a tragi-comedy as there is a compilation of dark happenings but there are also elements of humour at times. Like McCarthy himself the anti-communists don’t have a definitive number of communists acting as spies in the government. James Gregory’s Senator John Iselin is stooge for his megalomaniacal wife who gives him the number off his Ketchup bottle to make him feel better about giving a consistent number of communist spies to report to the press.

Angela Lansbury as the Senator’s wife steals the show with her performance. For those who only know her as amiable Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote you’ll see a side you never thought possible. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance filled with subtle hatred and menace. She received a Golden Globe for this stunning supporting role.

The other female roles are underwritten. Janet Leigh’s Eugenie Rose Chaney falls instantly in love with Sinatra’s Marco, even though he is a gibbering wreck who hardly gives her any eye contact. It’s the most awkward scene in the film and makes you wonder why Chaney doesn’t just walk off and think “Weirdo!” She dumps her fiance and let’s Marco move in instead. The only mis-step of this masterpiece.

Sinatra was well known for being a one-take actor. The director Oppenheimer was a perfectionist always looking to get everything just so, creating lively debate between the two. Bar the above scene, Ol’ Blue Eyes pulls this character off excellently, conveying the necessary authority of a high-ranking officer and the traumas of war. He also convincingly executes a great karate fight scene with Henry Silva’s Chunjin. The first in a Hollywood movie.

The antagonist, Harvey’s Shaw is a man powerless to do the bidding of others and for nefarious means. One thing that might gripe about his performance is his British accent. Isn’t he supposed to be American?

Excellent features accompany this excellent film. Not only do you get the standard director’s commentary and trailer, you also get a one-hour episode of Directors devoted to Oppenheimer, a 40-year reunion between star Sinatra, Oppenheimer and writer George Axelrod, an insightful special by Exorcist director William Friedkin and a feature deservingly dedicated to Angela Lansbury’s performance. All help to emphasise the importance this film had to the development of the industry.
Cinema has a rich history and this is one of its jewels.