Thursday, November 13, 2003

the manchurian candidate: an intriguing exercise in paranoia{WARNING: things like spoilers will be trivially discussed here}

The Manchurian Candidate was released in 1962. With a taut screenplay, great performances and an eerie background score (with a very delicious motif), the film was destined for greatness. JFK's assassination a year later, however, cast the film in a whole new light (it was even referred to as being a blueprint for the assassination), and, along with Suddenly (a brilliant atmospheric film I caught on Star Plus back home), it was withdrawn by Sinatra (who starred in both films). The film resurfaced several years later to much-deserved acclaim.

The real-life echoes are disturbing: James Gregory's communist-hating John Iselin is a different Senator McCarthy; Angela Lansbury's mother prefigures Margaret Thatcher; Laurence Harvey's disturbingly effective performance as Raymond Shaw as well as the circumstances we see him in towards the climax of the film are uncomfortably close to JFK events a year later ...

My favourite sequences in the film would be:

* a bravura setpiece of editing (which could squeak out only an Oscar nomination) revealing the soldiers being brainwashed through 360 degree pans between Communist Korean puppetmasters and their projected image of a spinsters' garden party in New Jersey.

* Bennet Marco (Sinatra) meeting Rosie (Leigh) for the first time on the train. The dialogues are perfect for one of those sit-upright-in-the-seat-wondering-WHAT moments.

This brings me to the one thing that worried me throughout the film: The dialogue exchanged in the Sinatra/Leigh encounter leads me to just one conclusion: Marco, not Shaw, is the real "Manchurian candidate" and Rosie, not Mommy dearest, is the real "American controller". This gives the climactic events a more ominous ring smacking of a deeper conspiracy.

Wonder how someone who hasn't been in the US will be able to make the Heinz/57 connection...

Laurence Harvey had an unfortunately short career. He also starred in Orson Welles' unfinished The Deep.

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