Undoubtedly, One of the Most Suspenseful Political Thrillers of All Time
It is claimed that Frank Sinatra kept ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ - 1962's most outstanding movie and one of his most memorable – out of circulation (until around 1989) simply because of the film’s disturbing political fantasies.
I have fond memories of this John Frankenheimer's dazzling adaptation of the Richard Condon novel which I saw again (probably for the 19th time) last night in DVD glory. I saw it first, sometime in the late eighties/early nineties when I was in school. In those days, my familiarity with Hollywood cinema was fairly limited – mostly sci-fi, horror and action films – mostly Spielberg, Lucas, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and a little bit of world cinema.
The name ‘Manchurian Candidate’ was such a misnomer to me. With no imagery, poster or a tape cover at my neighborhood video store, I rented it hoping it was a martial arts fest probably starring Jackie Chan or at least one of those many Chinese (English dubbed) kung fu/karate flicks. Even my videovala was convinced it indeed was a nice actioner. Boy, I was so wrong. That afternoon, I ended up fast-forwarding the entire movie waiting for Jackie Chan or his elusive Manchurian cousins to come on screen and destroy some baddies!
It was not until I entered high school that I actually savored the full grandeur of the novel and the movie and since then I have watched it so many, many times.
Now, 47 years after the assassination of JFK and 38 years after the Watergate scandal, in an age when all sorts of political machinations are possible and even expected, this Oscar nominated film is still just as gripping. Anyway, it's more likely that royalties bookkeeping had more to do with Sinatra's decision in in delaying its video release than tact or political compulsions.
While the 2004 remake of the same name starring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight and a terrific Meryl Streep was equally good, it’s the 1962 original (ranked amongst the 250 best movies of all time) that still lives up to its cult reputation. Starring Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Henry Silva, James Gregory (as a Mc-Carthyesque clown) and most spectacularly, Angela Lansbury as the most frightening mom in American film history, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ is a combination of visual pyrotechnics, nail-biting suspense, political paranoia and black humor that was years ahead of its time. 48 years after its release, its still is a great watch and that’s an achievement.
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