The Manchurian Candidate on DVD
Just in time for its remake to hit theaters, this quintessential cold war thriller
is a wonderfully intelligent but frightening look at the lengths to which the
forces of the political left will go to ensure their world view prevails.
Its a sobering movie, yet highly entertaining.
Frank Sinatra stars as Bennet Marco, US Army officer in the Korean war who,
along with his men, is taken captive by the North Koreans, then returned to
duty with minds still captured, to serve as pawns in the communist plot for
The chief pawn is the stepson of a US Senator, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence
Harvey), a man who is uniformly despised by his comrades in arms except
that once they return to the US hes uniformly loved by them and, thanks
to testimony from the others and led by Marco, hes awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor for bravery he never exhibited and deeds he never did.
As it turns out, its all a con, a brainwashing-inspired plot to send
Shaw back to the States as a sleeper assassin who can be activated at any time
and made to perform any nefarious deed his communist masters desire.
And what a plot it is! We wont spoil it for you here; suffice it to say
the plot involves foreigners bent on bringing the land of the free to its knees,
aided and abetted by Americans from a wide variety of social and political strata
including some very highly-placed politicians.
(Warning: Spoiler alert. If you dont know the plot, dont
read this paragraph) One thing thats fascinating about Candidate
is the way it shows how some politicians use backwards truth to
paint their opponents as enemies of the state. In this instance, its a
Senator whose Wormtongue of a wife has him accusing his political
opponents of being communists in order to marginalize them, all the while he
himself is working for the communists.
Its a propaganda technique used today by the Left and the US Democratic
party, which repeatedly lies about its opponents while practicing exactly the
kind of dirty politics of which it accuses them in their efforts to gain power
at any cost. Divisiveness and hyper partisanship are merely two examples.
Sinatra is excellent as the soldier haunted by nightmares that fight their
way into his consciousness in order to alert him to the truth. Also first rate
is Harvey as the soft spoken but ultimately deadly sleeper. But the best performance
in The Manchurian Candidate comes from Angela Lansbury, as Shaws mother.
If you only remember her as the lovable Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote,
youre in for a real eye opener here as she turns in a terrifyingly evil
performance as a Hillary Clinton-like idealog bent on pursuing her political
agenda at any cost.
Janet Leigh, as Sinatras love interest, turns in a smart and sexy performance,
though (perhaps because of the inevitable shorthand required to
turn a book into a movie, or maybe through editing after shooting was completed)
there seem to be some lapses in logic in her characters actions.
Director John Frankenheimer crafts an engrossing and involving film thats
a cinematic treat from its opening to its surprising conclusion. The scenes
of the brainwashed soldiers on display in Manchuria are not only fascinating,
theyre excellent cinema. One of the shots is a complete 360 degree pan
of the camera thatll knock your socks off.
This is one heck of a film!
Its a very good DVD, too. The black and white picture is presented in
anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture is sharp and clean
and looks very good. Audio is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well
as the original mono. Audio quality is fine considering the age of the source
and theres even some interesting use of the surround channels on the 5.1
track, though its sparse.
You also get some pretty good extras on this Special Edition disc. First up
is a running commentary by the late director Frankenheimer, who in many ways
was one of the industrys greats. We also enjoyed the interview with Sinatra,
Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod recorded in the late 1980s.
Also on hand are two relatively short featurettes, one of which features filmmaker
William Friedkin opining on the innovations in the film and the other of which
features Ms. Lansbury.
You also get a photo gallery and the theatrical trailer.
As of this writing, we have no idea what the new version of The Manchurian
Candidate will be like, but since the Cold War is now over, we wonder who theyre
going to pick as the enemy of freedom this time. If we were betting people,
and given Hollywood's slant, wed put our money on it being evil corporations
Time will tell. In the meantime, remember that remakes are generally not as
good as the originals and that the new Manchurian Candidate has really
big shoes to fill.
The Manchurian Candidate, Special Edition, from MGM Home Entertainment
127 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, James
Produced by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod, directed by John Frankenheimer
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