• Manchurian Candidate, The

    Released by: MGM
    Released on: 4/14/2011
    Director: John Frankenheimer
    Cast: Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, Laurence Harvey
    Year: 1962
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    The Movie:

    John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate is an amazing piece of Cold War era filmmaking, encapsulating all of the paranoia and fear that seems to have been so common in the America of that day. The story follows a group of soldiers who have returned home from the Korean War, primarily Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), whose memory seems to be slipping. He knows he’s a decorated war hero but he can’t remember why and something doesn’t seem to be completely right in his head. A few other members of Shaw’s troop, chiefly Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), are also having recurring nightmares – what’s going on here?

    We learn that while overseas, this group of soldiers were brainwashed by a Chinese hypnotist whose grip on the men is so powerful he’s able to convince one man to kill another without so much as batting an eye. Marco decides to meet up with Shaw to talk about what happened to them and to see if they can figure out what’s going on while Shaw’s mother, Eleanor (Angela Lansbury), and step-father, John Iselin (James Gregory), try to bring him back into society. Things become even more complicated when John gets the Republican nomination for run for President. While Shaw’s life starts to spiral, Marco and his girlfriend, Eugenie (Janet Leigh) find themselves deeply involved a deadly conspiracy theory.

    One of those rare films where EVERYTHING comes together, The Manchurian Candidate is pretty much a flawless film from start to finish. From the opening scenes in Korea (look for a young Henry Silva playing a Korean man named Chunjin!) through to the return to American soil the film is gripping, tense, exciting and incredibly suspenseful. Frankenheimer’s direction is spot on, allowing the audience to put the pieces of the puzzle together only as quickly as the characters in the film itself. This, for lack of a cornier cliché to use, keeps us on the edge of our seats throughout and by mixing in some well played dramatic moments and a few scenes of genuine horror into the pot, we wind up with a movie that really does keep you guessing.

    Performance wise, the film makes great use of its top notch case. Sinatra is great here, tough enough to work in the storyline and dashing enough to deserve to hook up with foxy blonde Janet Leigh. They make a good fit here and look great together but don’t for a minute think that their relationship is simply another typical Hollywood romance – nothing in this film is typical. Laurence Harvey is also great in his part, playing his increasingly confused character while supporting efforts from Gregory and Lansbury as high society stuffed shirt types round out the core cast members really, really well. It’s hard for some of us not to associate Lansbury with Murder She Wrote but here she plays a perfect bitch so far removed from her Jessica Fletcher character that it’s hard to believe it’s the same actress.

    Fantastic black and white cinematography helps add a noirish feel to the movie, while attention to detail is outstanding. Little moments, like a scene where Sinatra’s character is so wracked that he can’t even light his cigarette from trembling, help to ratchet up the suspense and keep you paying close attention. The conspiracy theory elements and the way in which the government’s side is twisted into the plot are surprisingly envelope pushing for their time, though there are moments where Frankenheimer is definitely going for satire. Regardless, the film is just as good as its sterling reputation would have you believe, a genuine classic if ever there was one.


    The AVC encoded 1.75.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer does a good job with some iffy source material. There are a few shots here that are soft in focus, sometimes hazy, but the movie has always looked like that. Some mild print damage pops up here and there and black levels aren’t always perfect but this is a much better picture than we had previously on DVD. Texture and detail are noticeably improved right from the start and contrast looks a bit more natural as well. There are a few specific shots that look to have had some noise reduction applied and they look a bit waxy, but outside of those few scenes, overall the image is pretty darn good.

    Puzzlingly enough, the only lossless audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix and while it’s not a bad one, purists will understandably be annoyed over the lack of an original mono lossless track. That said, the audio here is clean and clear and while it may never get all that enveloping compared to other more impressive surround mixes the format can offer, there aren’t any problems here. Optional Dolby Digital tracks are provided in French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 with optional subtitles available in English SDH, French and Spanish.

    John Frankenheimer kicks off the extras with a commentary track that unfortunately suffers from some pacing problems. When the director feels inclined to speak, he’s excellent and offers up a lot of unique insight into the filmmaking process and his experiences on this production. That said, he periodically clams up for long stretches at a time and this hurts things a bit. What’s here is good, however – very good. He’s got some great stories about the various cast members, Sinatra in particular, about the politics of the film and about the different locations that he and his crew used for the shoot.

    Aside from that, MGM has also included over a half an hour’s worth of interview clips with Sinatra, Frankenheimer and writer George Axelrod, in which the three men, each interviewed separately throughout the years, discusses their work on the picture. It’s great to get Sinatra’s input on this, and his stories about the fight scenes in the picture are reason enough alone to check this material out if you haven’t already seen it (like the commentary this material was available on the DVD special edition from a few years ago).

    Rounding out the extras are two minutes of interview outtakes, the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter stops. All of the extras on the disc are, sadly, in standard definition only.

    The Final Word:

    An amazingly tense and exciting film shot with style to spare, The Manchurian Candidate is a true classic of suspense featuring great performances and awesome cinematography. MGM’s Blu-ray release is strong, offering up quite an improvement over the standard definition releases, and a great selection of extra features all carried over from that release. Absolutely essential.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Nolando's Avatar
      Nolando -
      DofP was Lionel Lindon, who did the first season of The Munsters - no wonder that show looks so darn good in b/w.