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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

SYNOPSIS

Raymond Shaw, stepson of Sen. John Iselin, a highly vocal anti-Communist demagogue, returns from the Korean War decorated for war heroism. The sullen, withdrawn Shaw is described with robotic precision by all the surviving members of his platoon, including Army lifer Bennett Marco, as a warm and wonderful human being. But Marco is having nightmares about what really happened in Korea, and when he finds out others have been experiencing the same disturbances, he sets about to uncover the truth - that the entire platoon had been captured and brainwashed by the Chinese Communist enemy. As opponents of the rabidly right-wing Iselin and his wife, Raymond's fierce, controlling mother, begin to be destroyed politically or killed outright, Marco discovers Raymond's deadly mission and the horrifying reason they were brainwashed years earlier.

Director: John Frankenheimer
Producers: Howard W. Koch (executive producer), George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Editing: Ferris Webster
Art Design: Richard Sylbert, Philip M. Jefferies
Music: David Amram
Cast: Frank Sinatra (Bennett Marco), Laurence Harvey (Raymond Shaw), Angela Lansbury (Raymond's mother), Janet Leigh (Eugenie Rose), Leslie Parrish (Jocie Jordon), James Gregory (Sen. John Iselin).
B&W-127m. Letterboxed.

Why THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is Essential

The Manchurian Candidate is one of those rare pictures that enjoys a reputation and cult status that extends far beyond its effectiveness as a superb entertainment. The controversial subject matter and unique combination of genres and tones (ranging from nerve-shattering thriller to wildly fantastic political satire), flawlessly executed by all involved, earn it a place in the pantheon. But the picture has also gained in cache thanks to the historical events that came on the heels of its release, an era of political unrest and horrifying assassination that seems to be foreshadowed by the film's story. On top of that, the film's unavailability for viewing for more than 20 years, fueled by speculation for the reasons it was being withheld, added an air of mystery to this volatile and terrifying parable of American political life.

The Manchurian Candidate's impact on all those who saw it in 1962 was undeniable. Although Richard Condon's novel had been available to the public since 1959, the story did not have the same dramatic effect on readers it would have on moviegoers when they saw it brought to life by some of Hollywood's most talented actors. The nation's shameful anti-Communist era was essentially over, but its effects lingered, and the idea of presenting a McCarthy-type movement as a sinister Communist plot was outrageous. The topsy-turvy premise offered great opportunities for twisting and turning the audience's attention and expectations, shifting between black humor and queasy violence to make for an emotional thrill ride.

Although he had built up a solid reputation with the release of both Birdman of Alcatraz and All Fall Down in 1962, director John Frankenheimer became a major cinematic force with The Manchurian Candidate. He was instrumental in providing a creative atmosphere that allowed Frank Sinatra to give what many feel is his best performance. And he also drew impressive work from Laurence Harvey and, despite her odd and relatively small role, from Janet Leigh. And of course, there is the unforgettable Angela Lansbury, a mommie dearest so indelibly, deliciously evil that her Oscar®-nominated performance is usually what is remembered most about the film.

Frankenheimer, ably assisted by Oscar®-nominated editor Ferris Webster, creates a tension and excitement that have not dated, moving the story back and forth in time and place, revealing bits of information and shocking details in fantastic sequences of memory and nightmare alternating with stark realism. A director who cut his teeth in television, Frankenheimer creates small moments that are filled with conflict and movement. A case in point is the press conference sequence, in which we see Lansbury, the mastermind, in the foreground; James Gregory, as her puppet husband, carrying out her orders in the background; and the Secretary of Defense (Barry Kelley) on a TV screen watched by Lansbury as he furiously reacts to accusations of Communist influence in his department - all this tense action compacted into one tight, unbearably cramped frame.

The true mark of an essential film is how well it stands the test of time. When it was re-released in 1988, The Manchurian Candidate caused as much, or more, of a sensation than on its initial theatrical run, finding an entirely new generation of admirers. Since that time, it has taken on an almost mythic importance due to the events that transpired in its wake and the fact that both Frankenheimer and Sinatra were close friends of the Kennedy family. Seen today, it is as exciting, creepy, and darkly humorous as it was in 1962. And despite a 2004 reworking and updating of the story, the original's power and influence have not been diminished.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate was remade with considerably less impact in 2004 by Jonathan Demme. In the updated version, Shaw and Marco were soldiers in the Gulf War, Shaw himself becomes a political candidate (for Vice President) rather than his stepfather, and the sinister force is no longer Communist China but a corporation called Manchurian Global.

Another of Richard Condon's novels of political paranoia was made into the film Winter Kills (1979). That story is based loosely on the Kennedy assassination. Condon's organized crime novel Prizzi's Honor was filmed in 1985 by John Huston with Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner.

Members of the Korean platoon captured and brainwashed by the Chinese are named after cast and crew members of the 1950s TV sitcom The Phil Silvers Show, which was set in an Army barracks.

The concept of "brainwashing" was first made popular by CIA-fronted writers around the time of the Korean War as an explanation of how the Chinese government was able to get hundreds of thousands of its citizens indoctrinated into Communism. The term itself likely first appeared in a book on the subject in 1950. During the Korean War, some American POWs made public statements of support for Communism and against the U.S.; these actions were explained away by insisting the soldiers had been brainwashed. But many studies have since debunked the idea, and certainly nothing supports the hypnotic method or extent depicted in the movie. Even those who have fallen victim to "coercive persuasion," have quickly reverted to their original beliefs and actions once the threat was withdrawn.

Frankenheimer followed this film with another tale of high-level political intrigue based on a popular novel, Seven Days in May (1964). In that film, American democracy is threatened not by Communism but by military leaders plotting to take over the government.

Writer George Axelrod and director John Frankenheimer teamed again for another political thriller, The Holcroft Covenant (1985), but it was not a great success. Axelrod tried his hand at the genre once more with The Fourth Protocol (1987), his last film.

The Manchurian Candidate's story was considered so politically controversial it was either censored or prohibited from theatrical release in many Eastern European countries then under Communist governments and even in neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden. The theatrical premiere for most of those countries was held after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993.

In a 1996 interview with screenwriter George Axelrod published in Film Comment, author Patrick McGilligan said the film was "pilloried across the political spectrum by groups ranging from the American Legion to the Communist Party."

"I just want you to know that I think you gave one helluva performance." - Veteran actress Mary Astor upon encountering Angela Lansbury in a Malibu grocery store.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

John Frankenheimer came out of television's Golden Age of the 1950s, as the director of critically acclaimed dramas in such anthology series as Playhouse 90 and Climax!. He made his feature debut with a film adapted from a TV story he had directed about troubled youth, The Young Stranger (1957). That led to his real break, being hired by Burt Lancaster to direct The Young Savages (1961), a gritty tale of juvenile delinquency in New York City. Despite frequent clashes with Lancaster, the two worked together four more times, including the acclaimed Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). After a phenomenal rise in the early 60s, Frankenheimer's critical and box office stock began to fall due to a drinking problem. In the 80s, he alternated infrequent film work with projects for television that earned him much critical praise and several awards. He died in 2002.

Frank Sinatra reputedly had a swimming pool designed with a large painting on the bottom of the Queen of Hearts playing cards, the image used to trigger Raymond Shaw's brainwashed obedience in the movie.

Director John Frankenheimer later said The Manchurian Candidate didn't do well financially because the studio chose to promote another Sinatra picture, The Pride and the Passion (1957), but that film had actually been released five years earlier.

After its first run, The Manchurian Candidate was withdrawn from exhibition and withheld from distribution for many years. Several rumors have abounded to explain its disappearance. One held that Sinatra, who controlled the rights to the picture, locked up both The Manchurian Candidate and his earlier political assassination film Suddenly (1954) after the assassination of his friend John F. Kennedy, but that has now been disputed. In fact, Sinatra's control only extended to the film's rights after seven years. There is, however, apparently some truth to the story that after JFK was murdered a year after the picture was released, some exhibitors requested it be given another run to capitalize on the event but that United Artists refused.

Another reason given for the film's unavailability for so many years (put forth by Frankenheimer and others) was a financial and legal dispute between Sinatra and United Artists. That, too, has been disputed, and many now generally accept that the true reason is still not clear. What is certain is that during its "lost years," the film built up a great reputation. "The movie went from failure to classic without passing through success," noted its screenwriter, George Axelrod. When it was finally re-released in 1988, it was a big box office hit (as well as a success on its subsequent video/DVD release) and earned even more rave reviews as one of the best pictures of that year.

Sinatra arranged with United Artists for President John Kennedy to receive a print of the film in May 1962.

In his career of more than 30 years, writer George Axelrod's most personal project was the offbeat comedy Lord Love a Duck (1966), starring Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowall. Many consider the film, which he also produced and directed, to be ahead of its time.

Film critic Roger Ebert zeroed in on the strange relationship between the characters played by Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh (who seems rather incidental to the plot). The two complete strangers meet in a train car. Leigh helps him as he appears to have a breakdown, immediately falls for him, urges him (in rather hushed and passionless tones) to memorize her contact information, takes him in and ditches her fianc. "My notion," Ebert wrote, "is that Sinatra's character is a Manchurian killer, too - one allowed to remember details of Harvey's brainwashing because that would make him seem more credible. And Leigh? She is Sinatra's controller [as Lansbury is Harvey's]."

At 36 years old at the time of filming, Angela Lansbury was only three years older than Laurence Harvey, who played her son. It wasn't the first time Lansbury was called upon to play older than her true age. In her previous film, All Fall Down (1962), also under Frankenheimer's direction, she played the mother of Warren Beatty, who was less than 12 years her junior, and in Blue Hawaii (1961), she was the mother of Elvis Presley, who was only ten years younger.

British-born Lansbury has received three Oscar® nominations (including Supporting Actress for her film debut in Gaslight, 1944), 17 Emmy nominations, and 15 Golden Globe nominations, including her Best Supporting Actress win for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and for this picture and four wins for her role in the TV series Murder, She Wrote. Also a noted stage actress, she has won four Tony Awards for her work in Broadway musicals.

"Mine was a career that might have petered out had it not been for The Manchurian Candidate." - Angela Lansbury

Sen. and Mrs. Iselin's plane in the film actually belonged to Sinatra.

Leslie Parrish, who plays Raymond's ill-fated sweetheart Jocie, also played Daisy Mae in the film of the Broadway hit Li'l Abner (1959). She was married from 1977 to 1997 to Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. With Bach, she wrote the book One in 1988.

Cinematographer Lionel Lindon worked with Frankenheimer several times. Lindon received Oscar® nominations for his black-and-white work on Going My Way (1944) and I Want to Live! (1958) and won for his color cinematography on Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Described by the Boston Globe as "the Renaissance man of American music," David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber works, written two operas, and many scores for theatre and films. His screen work includes Splendor in the Grass (1961) and the legendary Beat Generation film Pull My Daisy (1959), in which he also appeared, along with such other notables of the Beat movement as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac.

Production Designer Richard Sylbert contributed much to the look of this picture, as he had for such films as Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, an Oscar® win for Sylbert), The Graduate (1967), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974), Shampoo (1975), Reds (1981), and Dick Tracy (1990, another Oscar®). He worked with Frankenheimer again on Grand Prix (1966).

Famous Quotes from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

Phrase used by several people in the movie to initiate control of the brainwashed Raymond Shaw: Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?

GENERAL (Harry Holcombe): (presenting Raymond with the Medal of Honor)
Congratulations, son. How do you feel?
SHAW (Laurence Harvey): Like Captain Idiot in Astounding Science comics.

MARCO (Frank Sinatra): Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

MARCO: It's not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He's impossible to like!

MARCO: Intelligence officer. Stupidity officer is more like it. Pentagon wants to open a Stupidity Division, they know who they can get to lead it.

ROSIE (Janet Leigh): My full name is Eugenie Rose. Of the two names I've always favored Rose, 'cause it smells of brown soap and beer. Eugenie is somehow more fragile.
MARCO: Still, when I asked you what your name was, you said it was Eugenie.
ROSIE: Quite possibly I was feeling more or less fragile at that instant.

SHAW: It's a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn't always hate her. When I was a child, I only kind of disliked her.

CHAIRLADY (Maye Henderson): You will notice that I have told them they may smoke. I've allowed my people to have a little fun in the selection of bizarre tobacco substitutes... Are you enjoying your cigarette, Ed?
MAVOLE (Richard LePore): Yes ma'am.
DR. YEN LO (Khigh Dhiegh): Yak dung! Hope tastes good, like a cigarette should!

DR. YEN LO: His brain has not only been washed, as they say. It has been dry cleaned.

SHAW: Twelve days of Christmas! One day of Christmas is loathsome enough!

RAYMOND'S MOTHER (Angela Lansbury): Raymond, why do you always have to look as if your head were about to come to a point?

RAYMOND'S MOTHER: I keep telling you not to think! You're very, very good at a great many things, but thinking, hon', just simply isn't one of them.

RAYMOND'S MOTHER: I know you will never entirely comprehend this, Raymond, but you must believe I did not know it would be you. I served them. I fought for them. I'm on the point of winning for them the greatest foothold they would ever have in this country. And they paid me back by taking your soul away from you.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Big Idea Behind The Manchurian CandidateThe idea to do The Manchurian Candidate originated with screenwriter George Axelrod, who read the book and thought it would make a terrific movie.

Axelrod may have seemed an unlikely choice to adapt a political thriller to the screen. He was primarily associated with comedies that took on sex and morality, including The Seven Year Itch (1955), adapted from his play; William Inge's Bus Stop (1956); Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), also from his play; and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. But Axelrod's writing was always based on his notion that good comedy is bitter, great comedy is angry. In Condon's book, he saw possibilities to combine grim, paranoid suspense and dark satire.

John Frankenheimer was then the hottest director in Hollywood. He and Axelrod met when Frankenheimer was set to do Breakfast at Tiffany's. He ended up not directing that movie, but the two became friends. Axelrod had him read the book, and he was instantly convinced. They each put up $5,000 of their own money against the $75,000 purchase price and secured the rights.

Frankenheimer later said he could not put the book down and was drawn to the story because "it had great social and political significance for me at the time." He told Gerald Pratley, author of The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (Oak Tree, 1976), that he wanted to do a film "that showed how ludicrous the whole McCarthy far Right syndrome was and how dangerous the far Left syndrome is...It really dealt with the whole idea of fanaticism, the far Right and the far Left really being exactly the same thing, and the idiocy of it."

The director was also attracted to the project as something he could, for the first time, instigate himself and have complete control over, rather than being a director for hire. The project fit all the standards he held for an ideal undertaking, he told Pratley: "You have to feel terribly involved, and it has to be something that means a great deal to you, that you feel very deeply about; and it has to be a statement that you want to make as a human being and as an artist."

Frankenheimer and Axelrod learned that almost every studio in town had turned down the property and that certain actors, such as Robert Mitchum, had been approached unsuccessfully. The Manchurian Candidate would not have gotten made if it hadn't been for Frank Sinatra. The star liked the book and wanted to play Marco.

United Artists, with whom Sinatra had a $15 million contract, was willing to finance almost anything that interested him but recoiled at this one. The studio's president, Arthur Krim, was national finance chair of the Democratic Party and felt the subject matter was too politically explosive. Krim was also worried the story would not sit well with President John Kennedy. But Sinatra knew Kennedy well (he had produced the president's inaugural gala), so the actor flew to Hyannisport in September 1961 to approach JFK about it. Kennedy had no objections; in fact, he had enjoyed Condon's book and thought it would make a great movie. So the project had the high-level go-ahead it needed.

Despite Sinatra's key role in getting it made, Axelrod and Frankenheimer were wary of working with the actor. The main concern was Sinatra's reputation for being difficult, not being on time, and refusing to do retakes. Frankenheimer approached him with the concerns, and Sinatra assured him this was a project he very much wanted to do and that he admired the director's films and was very interested in working with him. Because Sinatra was an insomniac who often couldn't get to sleep until five or six in the morning; the two negotiated an 11:00 a.m. start time to assure his being on time and ready for work. As for the retake issue, Sinatra explained he was more of an entertainer than an actor and always delivered his best performance when he was fresh and spontaneous, in other words, on the first take. "But if you want, I'll keep doing stuff as long as you want me to," he assured Frankenheimer.

The other issue with Sinatra was that the star was very firmly committed to having Lucille Ball play the part of Raymond's Machiavellian mother (who was given no first name in either the book or the script). Frankenheimer got him to agree to watch his most recent movie, All Fall Down (1962), to see Angela Lansbury's performance first. At the end of the screening, Sinatra agreed: "That's the lady."

A lot of names, including Tony Curtis, were tossed around for the role of the brainwashed assassin Raymond Shaw. They settled on Laurence Harvey, at the time a hot property after his appearances in Butterfield 8 (1960), Summer and Smoke (1961), and Walk on the Wild Side (1962). The British-trained Harvey had recently been Oscar®-nominated for his work in Room at the Top (1959), but Frankenheimer said his casting was partially decided on the basis of his accent, which somewhat recalled Kennedy's distinctive Massachusetts accent.

Although Tony Curtis wasn't cast, the woman from whom he was recently divorced, Janet Leigh, was given the small but pivotal role of Rosie. Leigh had read the book on the plane on her way to Kennedy's inaugural and been both disturbed and impressed by it.

Axelrod began the script in New York in early summer 1962, then went to California to work on it more with Frankenheimer. Although Condon and Axelrod became friends, the novelist did not work on the script at all.

Frankenheimer said they consulted every book they could find on brainwashing, relying most extensively on In Every War But One, a 1959 work by Eugene Kinkead. Frankenheimer admitted the idea of brainwashing in this movie was carried to extremes. But he also wanted to "do something about" his belief that American society was brainwashed by advertising, politicians, and a censored press.

Although Axelrod was determined to be very faithful to the book's plot and characters, he and Frankenheimer decided one change needed to be made. Condon had the Communist plot foiled by having Marco order the execution of Raymond's mother and stepfather, but they didn't want the outcome of the movie to hinge on the hero ordering a murder. So they reworked the plot to have Raymond take his final action independent of Marco. That also added the element of unbearable suspense to the climactic scene in which Marco races to stop Raymond from carrying out his deadly mission.

Taking the murder out of Marco's hands left the issue of how he was to find Raymond in Madison Square Garden. For that, Frankenheimer said he "ripped off" a plot element from Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940), in which Joel McCrea locates the Nazis in the windmill that is turning in the wrong direction. In The Manchurian Candidate script, they had Sinatra spot the booth where Raymond was poised to carry out the assassination because it's the only one in the building with lights on.

Axelrod made a few changes in adapting the story. One of his ideas was to make one of the members of the captured platoon black and show the brainwash sequence from his point of view, with all black characters.

Axelrod copied the lecture about hydrangeas in the brainwash sequence verbatim from a seed catalogue. Sinatra's coda speech, quoting from Raymond's Medal of Honor citation, was also taken directly from the wording for the congressional awards.

Axelrod found the "brilliant, wildly chaotic" novel a challenge, which he met by writing in dream sequences, flashbacks, narration, "everything in the world you're told not to do," he said. He credited director Billy Wilder with giving him the courage "to do some of the nutty stuff" they did in this picture. For Wilder, he said, the cardinal rule was Thou Shalt Not Bore, and so anything is permitted to get the story across in an exciting way.

Axelrod always considered this to be the best adaptation he ever did (and many, such as critic David Thomson, call it his best script, period). The director echoed that sentiment and noted that although people always talk about The Manchurian Candidate as a great Frankenheimer movie, Axelrod also deserves an immense amount of credit for it.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In spite of Frankenheimer's insistence that much of the credit for The Manchurian Candidate's success was due to Axelrod's writing, the script actually contained very few camera directions. The imaginative depiction of the brainwashing sequence, with its intercutting between different perspectives and fantasies, the playing out of the assassination scene, and such touches as the use of TV screens in the press conference, were all worked out by Frankenheimer.

The brainwashing sequence was filmed three times in its entirety (the garden club ladies, the black soldier's viewpoint, and the Communist captors) against three different sets constructed so the camera could turn completely around in each. The parts were then edited together to convey the shifting perspectives.

The assassination sequence was filmed first over a period of four days in an empty Madison Square Garden in New York with Laurence Harvey walking between vast rows of vacant seats and arriving at the booth high up in the arena. The rest of the sequence was filmed in the far smaller Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles with tight shots of crowds at the fictional convention, edited together to give the impression that the original location was now filled with thousands of people.

Production Designer Richard Sylbert created most of the interiors in the studio.

Frankenheimer and cinematographer Lionel Lindon chose to use a lot of hand-held cameras to give many scenes their bizarre, disorienting feel.

Sinatra told the press he was more excited to do The Manchurian Candidate than any movie he had ever worked on. He was particularly taken with having to say things in the script "I've never had to speak on screen before...long, wild speeches." Axelrod said he thought it was terrific "to have that marvelous, beat-up Sinatra face giving forth long, incongruous speeches."

In spite of his reputation, Sinatra turned out to be, for the most part, a hard worker and pleasant and cooperative on the set. Frankenheimer called him "one of the most charming human beings I have ever met." Janet Leigh was friends with the actor before filming began but still nervous about stories she heard from others who worked with him. She found him to be "a caring, giving actor, willing to rehearse indefinitely, taking direction, contributing ideas to the whole." Axelrod said he was "a dream to work with" and called him "one of the best screen actors in the world...lyrically sensitive...magic." Most people agreed that Sinatra's attitude could be attributed largely to the fact that he had tremendous respect for his director and enthusiasm for the project.

Axelrod did, however, note some demands Sinatra made. All his scenes had to be scheduled up front and shot in 15 days. Before he left the set, he announced that he would have to see every bit of footage he was in. Frankenheimer told him he could see it all except the complex, multi-perspective brainwashing sequence, which had not yet been edited, but Sinatra insisted "in a voice where you felt kneecaps were going to be broken," Axelrod said. To accommodate the star, Axelrod and editor Ferris Webster went through the shooting script and noted where all the cuts should be, then Webster put it together so Sinatra could see it. According to Axelrod, the sequence as cut for that purpose made it into the finished film unchanged.

One other problem involving Sinatra concerned the memorably harrowing sequence where he confronts Raymond with an entire pack of the Queen of Hearts trigger cards. Sinatra went through the scene without a hitch and was very effective in his close-ups. But when Frankenheimer viewed the rushes, he noticed that the camera was out of focus on Sinatra's face. He told the actor the scene would have to be shot again. Sinatra was crushed, on the verge of tears, according to the director, because he knew that his best work was always on the first take. Reshooting the scene proved Sinatra to be right. So Frankenheimer decided to use the out-of-focus shots. Audiences and reviewers thought the scene brilliant and assumed the askew focus was meant to show Raymond's fuzzy perspective on Marco.

Janet Leigh found the role of Rosie one of the most difficult she had done because "the character was plunked down in the middle of the script, with no apparent connection to anyone, transmitting non sequiturs while sending meaningful rays through her eyes." But she was proud of her work and credited Sinatra and Frankenheimer with helping her achieve it.

The scene where Laurence Harvey jumps in Central Park Lake was shot on the coldest day in 30 years. The foot-thick ice on the lake had to be broken with a bulldozer before the scene could be shot.

The Manchurian Candidate was shot in 39 days.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

"John Frankenheimer's direction [is]...exciting in the style of Orson Welles when he was making Citizen Kane [1941]." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, October 25, 1962.

"Many loud hurrahs for The Manchurian Candidate, a thriller guaranteed to raise all but the limpest hair. ... The acting is all of a high order, and Sinatra, in his usual uncanny fashion, is simply terrific." - The New Yorker, 1962.

"The picture is really fascinating despite its rather far-fetched premise and wholesale slaughter during later passages, and if you're looking for a wild-and-woolly horror film fare - with psychological sidelights and political background - this is it." - John L. Scott, Los Angeles Times, 1962.

"Sinatra gives a seasoned and in many ways more mature performance than he has ever done before." - James Powers, The Hollywood Reporter, 1962.

"Every once in a rare while a film comes along that works in all departments, with story, production and performance so well blended that the end effect is one of nearly complete satisfaction." - Vincent Canby, Variety, October 17, 1962.

"A daring, funny, and far-out political thriller about political extremists. ... This picture plays some wonderful, crazy games about the Right and the Left; although it's a thriller, it may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made in Hollywood." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt and Co., 1984).

"A wonderful piece of Cold War kitsch." - Film journalist Peter Biskind on the film's 1988 re-release.

"One of the most emotionally disorienting movies ever made; other directors are still trying to match its split-second ability to turn shrieks of delight into gasps of horror." - Sol Louis Siegel, 1988.

"Words are puny to describe Angela Lansbury's acting. ... Lansbury creates a modern-age Lady Macbeth with the skill of a sorceress. It's an astonishing, engulfing performance." - Peter Travers, 1988.

Awards & Honors

Despite rave critical reviews, The Manchurian Candidate was not a huge box office hit on its initial release due largely to poor marketing by United Artists. Many have said the studio simply did not know what kind of picture they had on their hands.

The Manchurian Candidate got two Academy Award nominations, for Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury) and Editing (Ferris Webster).

For her supporting role, Lansbury also received a Golden Globe, the National Board of Review Award (also in recognition of her work in Frankenheimer's All Fall Down, 1962), and a Laurel award nomination from the Motion Picture Exhibitors magazine.

A second-place Laurel Award went to Frank Sinatra (Top Action Performance) and a third place to the picture for Top Action Drama.

John Frankenheimer was nominated by the Directors Guild of America.

The Manchurian Candidate was also nominated for a British Academy Award.

In 1999, the film was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be one of the motion pictures preserved on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. It was also inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame in 2002.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Synopsis: Raymond Shaw, stepson of Sen. John Iselin, a highly vocal anti-Communist demagogue, returns from the Korean War decorated for war heroism. The sullen, withdrawn Shaw is described with robotic precision by all the surviving members of his platoon, including Army lifer Bennett Marco, as a warm and wonderful human being. But Marco is having nightmares about what really happened in Korea, and when he finds out others have been experiencing the same disturbances, he sets about to uncover the truth - that the entire platoon had been captured and brainwashed by the Chinese Communist enemy. As opponents of the rabidly right-wing Iselin and his wife, Raymond's fierce, controlling mother, begin to be destroyed politically or killed outright, Marco discovers Raymond's deadly mission and the horrifying reason they were brainwashed years earlier.

The Manchurian Candidate is one of those rare pictures that enjoys a reputation and cult status that extends far beyond its effectiveness as a superb entertainment. The controversial subject matter and unique combination of genres and tones (ranging from nerve-shattering thriller to wildly fantastic political satire), flawlessly executed by all involved, earn it a place in the pantheon. But the picture has also gained in cache thanks to the historical events that came on the heels of its release, an era of political unrest and horrifying assassination that seems to be foreshadowed by the film's story. On top of that, the film's unavailability for viewing for more than 20 years, fueled by speculation for the reasons it was being withheld, added an air of mystery to this volatile and terrifying parable of American political life.

The Manchurian Candidate's impact on all those who saw it in 1962 was undeniable. Although Richard Condon's novel had been available to the public since 1959, the story did not have the same dramatic effect on readers it would have on moviegoers when they saw it brought to life by some of Hollywood's most talented actors. The nation's shameful anti-Communist era was essentially over, but its effects lingered, and the idea of presenting a McCarthy-type movement as a sinister Communist plot was outrageous. The topsy-turvy premise offered great opportunities for twisting and turning the audience's attention and expectations, shifting between black humor and queasy violence to make for an emotional thrill ride.

Although he had built up a solid reputation with the release of both Birdman of Alcatraz and All Fall Down in 1962, director John Frankenheimer became a major cinematic force with The Manchurian Candidate. He was instrumental in providing a creative atmosphere that allowed Frank Sinatra to give what many feel is his best performance. And he also drew impressive work from Laurence Harvey and, despite her odd and relatively small role, from Janet Leigh. And of course, there is the unforgettable Angela Lansbury, a mommie dearest so indelibly, deliciously evil that her Oscar®-nominated performance is usually what is remembered most about the film.

Frankenheimer, ably assisted by Oscar®-nominated editor Ferris Webster, creates a tension and excitement that have not dated, moving the story back and forth in time and place, revealing bits of information and shocking details in fantastic sequences of memory and nightmare alternating with stark realism. A director who cut his teeth in television, Frankenheimer creates small moments that are filled with conflict and movement. A case in point is the press conference sequence, in which we see Lansbury, the mastermind, in the foreground; James Gregory, as her puppet husband, carrying out her orders in the background; and the Secretary of Defense (Barry Kelley) on a TV screen watched by Lansbury as he furiously reacts to accusations of Communist influence in his department - all this tense action compacted into one tight, unbearably cramped frame.

The true mark of an essential film is how well it stands the test of time. When it was re-released in 1988, The Manchurian Candidate caused as much, or more, of a sensation than on its initial theatrical run, finding an entirely new generation of admirers. Since that time, it has taken on an almost mythic importance due to the events that transpired in its wake and the fact that both Frankenheimer and Sinatra were close friends of the Kennedy family. Seen today, it is as exciting, creepy, and darkly humorous as it was in 1962. And despite a 2004 reworking and updating of the story, the original's power and influence have not been diminished.

irector: John Frankenheimer
Producers: Howard W. Koch (executive producer), George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Editing: Ferris Webster
Art Design: Richard Sylbert, Philip M. Jefferies
Music: David Amram
Cast: Frank Sinatra (Bennett Marco), Laurence Harvey (Raymond Shaw), Angela Lansbury (Raymond's mother), Janet Leigh (Eugenie Rose), Leslie Parrish (Jocie Jordon), James Gregory (Sen. John Iselin).
BW-127m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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