The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate

This new Blu-Ray release of the original 1962 film is a revelation – mostly in relation to the acting chops of Frank Sinatra. He is the not the only star of the film but is the complete and utterly fantastic stand out performer in it. He is effortlessly magnetic on screen, his eyes tell the story – he inhabits his character fully and believably.

Janet Leigh is also amazingly and believably real. Other performances in comparison are maybe a little stagey, but this is fine within the context of the story, and in the case of Angela Lansbury’s character, completely necessary. Lansbury is great in this too playing the kind of powerful matriarch around which dynasties are formed. Laurence Harvey is the leading man around which the story centres, and he is solid leading man material.

On one level this hokey psychological thriller (playing on fears of enemy agents using hypnotism) is a kind of sub-Hitchcock story. But it is incredibly well done. The extra political element is where it becomes very interesting – the battling senators, and Angela Lansbury being the power behind her idiot candidate husband.

An early scene where the premise of the hypnotism and brainwashing is explained by seemingly taking place in two different locations in one single shot – it is a virtuoso piece of filmmaking which almost wants to make you stand up and applaud its inventiveness. It is even more remarkable when you remember that it was filmed in 1959 and CGI effects weren’t available to paper the cracks. It is quite breath-taking. The Blu Ray transfer helps too; it looks great.

To say too much more than I already have would be to spoil the plot – all you need to know is that it involves American soldiers returning home after being brainwashed during the Korean War, some opposing politicians and Presidential nominations.

It is tense and properly thrilling, the story rattles along at a rate of knots, with some fabulous twists and turns. There is something very uneasy about following a story in which so much is hung around brainwashing – you genuinely don’t know who to trust a lot of the time.

All in all this is a tremendous watch. It is a proper classic and rightly deserving of its status as such.

Highly recommended.

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