Gary A. Braunbeck

The Manchurian Candidate

1962’s The Manchurian Candidate

A lot — a lot — has been written and said about The Manchurian Candidate, the film that put John Frankenheimer on the map as a director. How effective you’ll find the film today depends on your personal level of cynicism.

Candidate — a satire in the truest sense of the word — deliberately sets out to make the viewer uncertain as to whether or not it’s supposed to funny. Admittedly, some of the scenes in the film have an aura of comedy about them which I think was intentional, while others (scenes obviously intended to be serious) unintentionally draw chuckles. Laurence Harvey’s British accent seems ludicrously out of place for a veteran of the Korean War, especially since he’s supposed to be American, but once you get past his voice, you cannot help but admire his rich, complex performance.

The final sequence, filmed in Madison Square Garden, remains one of the most beautifully edited and unbearably suspenseful ever put on film. (Many critics and film scholars credit Frankenheimer as having created the template for the modern political thriller; viewing such films as Candidate, Seven Days in May, Black Sunday, and the recent HBO film The Path to War — which is now Frankenheimer’s swan song, and a great one, at that — this accolade seems almost understated.)

Movie Information

Running Time: 126 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay)

Frank Sinatra: Capt./Maj. Bennett Marco
Laurence Harvey: Sgt. Raymond Shaw
Janet Leigh: Eugenie Rose Chaney
Angela Lansbury: Mrs. Iselin
Henry Silva: Chunjin
James Gregory: Sen. John Yerkes Iselin
Leslie Parrish: Jocelyn Jordan
John McGiver: Sen. Thomas Jordan
Khigh Dhiegh: Dr. Yen Lo
James Edwards: Cpl. Alvin Melvin
Douglas Henderson: Col. Milt
Albert Paulsen: Zilkov
Barry Kelley: Secretary of Defense
Lloyd Corrigan: Holborn Gaines
Madame Spivy: Female Berezovo


2004’s The Manchurian Candidate

A remake of the 1962 classic was released in July 2004. It’s directed by Jonathan Demme (“Silence of the Lambs”) and stars Denzel Washington in Sinatra’s role as Ben Marco, Liev Schreiber in the Laurence Harvey role as Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw.

In this version, U.S. soliders are kidnapped during the Gulf War and brainwashed. The brainwashers use the Manchurian Corporation as their front, thus justifying the retention of the title even though the Chinese are no longer the villains in this remake.

The movie is decent, not nearly as good as the original, but worth watching. Washington is particularly good; he plays Ben Marco as a man who’s gradually falling apart, rather than as a square-jawed hero.

Movie Information

Running Time: 130 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writers: Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay), Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris

Denzel Washington: Ben Marco
Meryl Streep: Eleanor Shaw
Liev Schreiber: Raymond Shaw
Kimberly Elise: Rosie
Vera Farmiga: Jocelyn Jordan
Jon Voight: Senator Thomas Jordan
David Keeley: Anderson
Jeffrey Wright: Al Melvin
Sakina Jaffrey: Mysterious Arabic Woman
Simon McBurney: Noyle
Paul Lazar: Gillespie
Alyson Renaldo: Mirella Freeman
Adam LeFevre: Congressman Healy
Robyn Hitchcock: Laurent Tokar

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