“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
Hollywood sure lost something when the Cold War ended. It provided such fertile ground for stories of paranoia, intrigue and espionage. Sure, they can still tell these stories with period pieces taking varied nostalgic of hindsight aided views of the period. But I have to assume that these stories hit harder and played better when the audience was (or at least, thought they were) under the threat of the Red Menace in real life. Watching a movie like The Manchurian Candidate is good in 2015, but I have to imagine it was amazingly effective in 1962.
It’s the height of the Cold War, and America’s bravest are fighting in Korea. When soldier Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) saves all but two of his platoon from a deadly conflict, he returns home to a hero’s welcome and Congressional Medal of Honor at the recommendation of his commanding officer, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra).
Soon after, Marco begins having nightmares where he and his platoon are hypnotised, put on display in front of major communist world leaders and generals. In the display, Shaw coolly and efficiently kills two of their platoon at the order of a Chinese doctor. It turns out that these aren’t dreams, but deeply buried memories. Shaw has unwittingly been turned into a communist agent who will act on any order when certain triggers are activated.
States side, Marco begins to think his dreams might have some merit, while Shaw is forced to contend with a mother (Angela Lansbury) and Senator step-father who he hates. Years earlier, they broke up a relationship with his dream girl (Leslie Parish as Jocelyn Jordan), daughter of their political rival, Senator Thomas Jordan (John McGiver). The more Marco digs, the deeper the conspiracy is revealed to go.
The Manchurian Candidate is better than good. It’s pretty great. And that greatness is setup early, in the scenes depicting the brainwashing of Shaw and his comrades in the titular Manchuria. No crazy special effects, not weird camera angles and dissolves, set to cheesy, trippy music. Just amazing editing and acting to make one of the most effectively discombobulating sequences I’ve ever seen.
And if that doesn’t make you want to see it, how about this? The Manchurian Candidate lets us know that Frank Sinatra had one of the most awkwardly tight assed running styles in the history of cinema. Perhaps even, in the history of the world. For a guy who was all about being cool and knowing how to swing, it turns out Old Blue Eyes ran like he was holding a coin between his ass cheeks that he couldn’t afford to lose.