The Manchurian Candidate

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

The year was 1962 and director John Frankenheimer was about to be at the center of controversy. Before this film, he cut his teeth directing live TV. He had gotten wide acclaim and much respect in the industry. His project at hand was a tale of veteran nightmares and the consequences there after. This looked like any ordinary movie release that was going to come out at the time. A year later, our nation came across tragedy and the film, gearing too close to home with the feeling in the nation as well as the subject matter, was shelved away for twenty five years never to be seen again. However, in present day, seventeen years after it’s re-release, it’s a powerful enough movie to be given an updating coming later this year. That movie is The Manchurian Candidate.

Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) have both been captured during the Korean war. A few years after the war, Marco tries to put the pieces together as to how to remember his fellow comrade, Shaw. Despite not being liked in his platoon, he tells the public that Shaw is worthy of any good honor, but what he starts to realize is that during his capture he and Shaw was the subject of hypnosis at the hands of the Communists. Fearing that Shaw may be in danger, he tries to track him down. Meanwhile, Shaw is in a prominent position now that his mother (Angela Landsbury) is married to Senator John Iselin (James Gregory) who has plans for himself. Can Marco get to Shaw on time before he does something he might regret for the rest of his life?

Here’s a movie that combines an intriguing premise along with a wonderful cast. It’s hard to believe it was kept away from the public’s eye for so long that it holds up well almost forty years after it’s release. The offbeat casting of Angela Landsbury is quite a bold one. The result is an outstanding performance as Laurence Harvey’s mother that could have a few tricks up her sleeve and has plans of her own for her son.

The film moves at a tight pace and I could’ve sworn it could’ve been made yesterday with the same pace. At a screening a few years ago with Frankenheimer in attendance, he had mentioned that a few scenes were cut that could’ve made the film a more effective film than the final result. I don’t know how that’s possible, let alone how the re-imagining of the story will hold with the original later this year but, whatever the case may be, the original Manchurian Candidate remains a thriller for the ages and a great movie overall.

Video: How does it look?

The Manchurian Candidate is put in the 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen form and the result is decent but could’ve been better. It hurts that the film is not anamorphic but at the same time, not being filmed in Panavision, it’s not a big minus as well for regular TV set viewers. The print is clean but with flaws and speckles almost every ten minutes of the film. The images were precise but the clarity was not consistant and nicks and dirt are apparent and makes the difference between a good print and a great print. Hopefully, MGM will revisit this title to correct it’s non-anamorphic form. This also has a pan and scan version on the flip side.

Audio: How does it sound?

The monorial track on this disc is fair and impressive in the dialogue area and spotty in the effects area. The sixties limitations are apparent giving a natural muteness to the track. All comes out clear and the score sounds fine but when it comes to effects, especially at the opening of the film, the result is underwhelming and calls for a better track. This disc also has a Spanish and French audio track, with English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Better than the transfer is a commentary by director Frankenheimer. Here he keeps his great reputation for commentary and gives an informative track talking about the technical aspects of the film along with the choices he made upon filming. The track does tend to be a bit gappy but it doesn’t take away from the listening experience making for a solid extra.

Not so valuable is a seven-minute “in depth interview” with Frankenheimer, actor Frank Sinatra and author George Axelrod discussing making the film. It was made in 1988 and an updated look would’ve been more appreciative being that their comments added nothing additional that was already in the commentary.

Finally, there is the film’s theatrical trailer.

Here’s to a very good movie, with an okay transfer begging for a remastering and anamorphic treatment sometime in the near future.

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