Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer.

After being out of contact for three days, a squad returns from the Korean War and the men begin having nightmares about brainwashing and murder. One of their members is an unconscious sleeper agent, an assassin who will be triggered to kill as part of conspiracy to take over the country.

It's a great cold war fantasy that manages to satirize both the communists and phoney anti-communist politicians. It has quite a lot of humor, but turns progressively darker and tragic as Sgt Shaw is forced to commit vile acts. The climax is exceedingly tense, during a fine evocation of the hot, sweaty, boisterous political conventions of the past.

Fine cast. Laurence Harvey is tremendous as the aristocratically prissy and unloveable Raymond Shaw. As a weapon he is like a relaxed attack dog, ready for a command at any time. But in a painful sequence, he starts to break down because of what he has been made to do, and is eventually freed to seek revenge.

The timeless Angela Lansbury is his monstrous mother, actually only three years older than Harvey. You hear about Oedipus, Hamlet and Gertrude, but this is the only time I remember Orestes and Clytemnestra being mentioned in a movie.

Frank Sinatra is more troubled than usual and it's a good role for him. I hear he didn't like to work and the camera focus is not right on several scenes because he wouldn't do another take.

Janet Leigh was fortunate in her projects: Touch of Evil (1958), Psycho (1960). Here she is something like a tender screwball love interest for Sinatra, just what he needs to bring him back from a breakdown. But her quirky approach and odd dialogue make us wonder if something else isn't going on: is there another level to the conspiracy and is she Sinatra's controller? The director said he was just using what was in the book, which has nothing about that.

There are some clunky bits: using Henry Silva as a Korean seems odd now, and the big karate fight is not that special.

The David Amram score has the great Copland-like sound popular during the period. I should try to collect them all.

I remember nothing about the 2004 remake except that it was poor.

Available on Blu-ray, and pretty good looking.