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THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was directed by John Frankenheimer (PROPHECY, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) and written by George Axelrod (THE FOURTH PROTOCOL). The screenplay was based on the novel by Richard Condon.
The story opens in Korea, as in during the Korean War. Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey: NIGHT WATCH) and Captain Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra: THE FIRST DEADLY SIN) arrive at a Korean whorehouse and Shaw rousts the troops out, much to their displeasure. They end up on patrol near the front lines, lead by their Korean guide Chunjin (Henry Silva: ALLIGATOR, POSSESED BY THE NIGHT). Chunjin leads them into an ambush and all are taken prisoner.
We jump ahead to the arrival back in the U.S. (an unknown amount of time later) of Sgt. Shaw, who has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Brief narration tells us that Shaw won the CMH (America's highest military honor) for saving the lives of his squad.
Much to Shaw's surprise, his plane is met by a huge crowd, a band and lots of reporters. This all makes sense to Raymond when he sees his step-father, Senator John Iselin (James Gregory: BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES), and his politically ambitious mother (Angela Lansbury: THE MIRROR CRACK'D, MURDER, SHE WROTE [TV]). They try to milk as much publicity as they can from Raymond's achievement and it becomes clear that he despises them both. He tells his mother that not only won't he help with the Senator's campaign but that he is, in fact, moving to New York to take a job working for newspaper man Holborn Gaines (Lloyd Corrigan: SHE-WOLF OF LONDON).
"He's a communist!" hisses Raymond's horrified mother. But Raymond denies this, saying, "He's not a communist. He's a Republican."
Meanwhile, Captain Ben Marco is having a very bad dream. In the dream he and his men are in the lobby of a hotel, listening to a Ladies Gardening group discuss flowers. Only sometimes it's not a lady discussing flowers in front of a group of other ladies. Sometimes it's a Chinese man named Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh: THE MEPHISTO WALTZ) discussing hypnotic conditioning in front of Chinese and Russian generals. These scenes are brilliant and scary as what actually happened and what Marco was told to remember get all mixed up in his dream.
Ben is convinced his dream means something and tells his superiors in military intelligence about it. His boss (Whit Bissell: CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, SOYLENT GREEN) assumes he's been working too hard and transfers him to light duty. Ben decides to investigate the meaning of his dream on his own. In doing so he discovers that the other surviving soldiers all have the same dream. Why? And what is the story behind the pretty Eugenie (Janet Leigh: PSYCHO, THE FOG), who meets Ben on a train and seems to fall for him instantly?
This story is set in the fifties, an era when communist plots were much in the news.
Today we laugh off such paranoia but it was very real at the time. Raymond's
stepfather uses accusations of communist infiltration of the defense department
to advance his political career and this all seems transparently false,
except for the fact that Raymond, Ben and the other soldiers of the squad
really are the unwitting accomplices in a communist conspiracy. To what
end isn't clear at first, but when it does become clear, in all its twisted intricacies, it doesn't seem laughable at all.
But one thing that is never terrible is the
Continued at SCIENCE MOMENT / Manchurian Candidate.
This is an excellent thriller that shows what a nation can do when it's willing to experiment on people. That special kind of evil and ambition feels all the more real even when the plan turns out to have a few flaws. I give THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE a five on the shriek girl scale.
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