“His brain has not only been washed, as they say... It has been dry cleaned.”
Politics and I are not friends. Whenever it is an election year I die because I hate hearing about who promises what and all the lying bull that comes out their mouths. Since I do not pay attention to politics I am not a registered voter… I hear it all the time that it is my right as an American citizen to vote and how I should feel ashamed that I do not but I am not ashamed so if you are upset reading this fume over it on your side of the computer and leave the comments to yourself not at the bottom.
The above being said hopefully it is obvious that political thrillers are not a film genre I am fond of. Ever since I started watching classic films my grandparents have been telling me that I need to see the original Manchurian Candidate. I figured they were just telling me this because both of them really like this film so I dragged my heels to see it. I finally got around to seeing The Manchurian Candidate and I really liked it. The plot, to me, was not so much political it was definitely a thriller and thrillers are one of my favorite genres.
Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) served in a squadron with Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) during the Korean War. Shaw was given the Medal of Honor for rescuing his men from enemy lines. Now home Marco has a recurring nightmare where he, Shaw and their squadron have been captured by the Koreans and are put on display in front of other communists. In the dream they are all being brain washed beyond brain washed. Raymond has been given the order to shoot one of his men and does so without thinking twice and the man he shoots does not move nor is he afraid. He is ordered to kill another man by chocking him and the man who is about to be killed is ordered to relax. Ben works in Washington as an intelligence officer for the US Army. He lets his superiors know about his dream. Ben now believes that his dream is not a dream at all but a memory.
Raymond returns home to a hero’s welcome. He did not want to come to anything like this. As soon as he sees his mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) and her husband John Iselin he knows they are the ones to throw the fanfare. Raymond hates his mother and his step-father more than any two people on earth. John is an ineffectual politician. Eleanor is the one who puts all the power behind John and tells him what to do and what to say. She is very anti-communist and does everything in her power to make sure that anyone who is suspected of being a communist is punished. To make his mother angry and to go his own way Raymond takes a job for a newspaper in New York City who constantly slams John.
On the day Raymond arrives in New York he receives a letter from one of the men in his squadron. The letter is about the dream he keeps having where they are sitting in a room with a Korean man and they are surrounded by communists. Before Raymond can react to the letter his phone rings. On the other man is the Korean man from the dreams calling to activate him as a communist killer. He tells Raymond to play a game of solitaire. When Raymond sees the Queen of Diamonds it becomes his activation for the service of the communists.
Meanwhile, Ben has been given leave. He cannot concentrate which is affecting his work. Ben was moved over to military publicist and that did not work out too well. He was to have been advising on a hearing where John Iselin was put on the stand. John kept giving different number for how many communists may have been placed high in the American government. Ben decides to see Raymond so they can figure out what is going on between them.
Things slowly but excellently begin to unravel. We see that the one person being driven mad is not Ben but Raymond by people he thought he knew.
The cast besides Janet Leigh was phenomenal. Frank Sinatra was great the man had so much talent. Laurence Harvey not enough words can be said about how amazing he was. You can see how tormented the character was Harvey made him so believable. The film truly belongs to Angel Lansbury. She played a truly wicked character and blew it out of the water. I kept saying “oh my god how am I ever going to watch Beauty and the Beast again she was so sweet as Mrs. Pots” haha. Amazing character played by an amazing actress. Because of Lansbury Eleanor Iselin is one of my favorite film characters and I do not care that she is bad. Janet Leigh was a waste of film. I am so made she got top billing over Angela Lansbury. Leigh was barely in the film and worst of all she was what Hitchcock called a MacGuffin. Her character had nothing to do with the story she was just a love interest for Ben.
The Manchurian Candidate is such a great film. The twists and turns do not end until the film ends. I love films that make say “wait what on earth just happened?!” and I was saying that most of the time. I have to say I was shocked some things happened in this film because I was totally not expecting them to happen. It is always nice to still be able to feel a little shocked and awed with a film. I liked seeing a Cold War film plot that took place in the actual time period. Today we do not have fears that the communists are going to take over or they are going to brainwash people but back in the sixties that was a real and frightening threat. My grandparents were young in the sixties they said this film freaked them out when they first saw it. The Manchurian Candidate is a political thriller I was happy to have watched because it was suspenseful and I could not guess what was going to happen next.