The Essentials- #10
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Back in 2004, this movie was remade, starring Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber. Instead of Communist brainwashing Americans, it was American corporations brainwashing Americans. Which did not carry nearly the same amount of weight as the 1962 movie did. During this time period, Communism and the thoughts of some kind of invasion of the USA was scary. "Scary" is actually an understatement, I can't imagine the fear and suspicion some Americans must have carried during that era, but it must have been very intense.
"The Manchurian Candidate" tells the story of a group of American soldiers during the Korean War. This group is led by Major Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). One night the entire group is captured by North Korean guerrilla personnel and taken away by helicopters. When the film picks up we learn that Shaw has received the Medal of Honor for saving his fellow soldiers from entrapment. Making him an American hero. However, Marco and a couple other of his brothers-in-arms are having reoccurring nightmares about being on stage in front of many other Communist military leaders. In these nightmares, Shaw is killing two of his fellow countrymen.
For an old 1960's movie, the nightmare scenes are very grim and brutal. This is a movie that I definitely categorize as before its time. Don't let the black and white backdrop fool you. This is a very intense picture that is on par with all the other great mysteries in cinema. The movie plays serious throughout and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
When Marco is asked about Shaw he always says that he is "the kindest, bravest, warmest most lovable human being I ever knew." yet Marco knows in his heart that the real Shaw is not any of those things. Marco desperately wants to investigate, but gets no support from Military Intelligence, so he goes to solve the mystery himself.
I think there are many people in this world who love Frank Sinatra, the guy was a great entertainer for his time. He is a good singer and a was a great old-style actor. I never knew that Sinatra could be such a badass. There is a scene in "The Manchurian Candidate" where Sinatra gets into a fight with a Korean spy and beats the crap out of him. This role is nothing like the Sinatra we are used to and I think he deserves credit for his work. Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw is twisted, melancholy and calculated work. He really brings life to this very troubled individual and we as the audience get wrapped up in his story. Shaw isn't just some mute throughout the movie. This is a man who has a life, but is being paraded around by his controlling mother (Angela Lansbury, in an unforgettable performance.) and his Senator step-father, (James Gregory) who both are NOT who they seem.
The movie is filled with great performances and great moments. This is a tense little thriller that easily gets under your skin. Big reveals that I will not talk about in this review, just watching this movie unfold is all part of the fun. This can best any modern thriller easily, which is why it belong with the Essentials.
Also look for Janet Leigh, the actress from Hitchock's Psycho in a role as a woman who gets wrapped up in Marco's mystery!