Lindsey Wilson

“THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” ( 1962 )
Posted ~ March 1st, 2015

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The magic of cinema has never been lost on me. When VHS was introduced to our household, that opened Pandora’s box for me. One of the treasures I found in that mysterious box was the 1962 John Frankenheimer classic “THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.”

But, I didn’t find this treasure on my own. My beloved father, Walter Wilson, a technical writer for Bell Laboratories in the late 70’s, early 80’s, actually led me to this “gem” of a film that would open a new doorway to politics, imagination and fantasy for me. I could sit here for days and extract every single nuance that enchanted me about “The Manchurian Candidate” and it still wouldn’t do complete justice to the profundity this film offers to the 21st century.

The film is a political suspense thriller about mind-control and I must admit I, too, was transfixed and beautifully manipulated by the script and flawless casting of Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh,  Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, and James Gregory:

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Frankenheimer’s ability to transpose fantasy onto reality “blew my mind”– literally. It was clever, hip and ever so twisty.

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Take for instance the Manchurian operatives using mind-control to convince captured U.S. soldiers that they were looking at a congre-gation of white women addressing them about botany. Then…Frankenheimer morphs the scene to show Black women in an auxiliary club at a garden club. Interesting choice. In actuality it was mind-control that superim-posed the faces of women onto the actual male Manchurian operatives. All I knew was that the scene was trippy and delightful – saturated in layers. I just remember looking at my Dad, then looking at the screen as if to say “Did you see that?” I couldn’t pull my mind from that scene and was fixated to the end. It was that scene that began my mind-altering ride.

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - VIIThe cast is impeccable. I’d like to acknow-ledge the honesty of the main character Bennett Marco, played by Frank Sinatra. Mr. Sinatra was  a courageous man for taking on this film and to his credit, played his character with human pathos and humility. This character was by no means pretty. He was a mentally deprived man, by default, yet his intelligence allowed him to actually de-program himself to not only solve a murder, but also peel back the layers of a diabolical mind-altering plot. He was a hero; very much like whistle blowers today. I believed and empathized with this character.  Yes, Sinatra’s portrayal of Marco was stunningly progres-sive. Hats off to you Frankie.

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - VIJanet Leigh, the love interest. A tasty counterpart to Sinatra’s character. I believe she was the handler trying to bring him back to a state of normalcy – an instrumental source in the deprogramming of Ben Marco.

l love Angela Lansbury, the controlling mother. I think – Lady Macbeth. I think, the Devil Incarnate. Just who WAS this woman? Perhaps the Queen

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of Hearts. I would pay to read her backstory, wouldn’t you? There is nothing so horrible as to use a mother’s love to create an assassin! What or who created this monster? It would probably make an excellent film in itself: “Eleanor Shaw & the Oedipus Rex File.”  Heck, I’d watch it.  Angela Lansbury’s cunning and deviant character Eleanor Shaw, was a stroke of genius. Lansbury masterfully embodied the demented character’s drive for power, but also showed the vulnerability of a maniacal maternal instinct.

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - IXShe does kiss her son. However, the question stands: was it a “motherly” kiss or a lustful one. Somewhere in that backstory lies a woman scorned, avenging the taking of her son’s mind as any committed mother would. Eleanor, however, was commit-ted to another world that had her full allegiance – Central Intelli-gence, to which she sacrificed her only son. Very few actors can embody both emotional realms simultaneously. Angela does it brilliantly.

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“Poor, Raymond. Poor, poor, Raymond.” A stoic, tragic figure. It seems as though tragedy would fol-low this amazing actor, Laurence Harvey, to his death in 1973. I found his character painful to watch. His sadness and anger was staggering. Knowing that his mind was manipulated as a child left no out for him. He was the struggling ultimate victim – a casualty of war. I found that throughout the film, in his way, his morbid nature was an indi-cation of depression and resignation to his fate. Once he realized his fate was sealed, he self-detonated, destroying all evidence of a hand poorly dealt.

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I’m sure there are books written on the psychology of “The Manchurian Candidate.” If not, there should be. This film is foretelling, foreboding and only the beginning of things to come. I highly recommend people revisit this classic to get some answers to the questions embedded in the political and social climate of the 21st century.

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7 thoughts on “Lindsey Wilson

  1. I too love this film. It is the story of poor,tragic Raymond,as you said. The whole cast is great especially Angela Lansbury.
    I couldn’t bring myself to go to the remake as much as I love Meryl Streep.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I should have been with you there, Vienna. I DID go see the re-make. Ugh! “The Manchurian Candidate” is a great story and Lansbury…she was fan-tas-tic! Thanx so much for your comment.

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  2. I wonder about the significance of the garden club race choice on a tale etched into ’50s society, and then filmed in 1962 Hollywood. This is one of those writer’s twists – “What is the writer trying to make the audience think the Commie Pinkos are thinking?”

    It borders on one of those loopy “I know you know I know, but I really know you know I know you know” dilemmas.

    Is the writer trying to say, “I want to portray the Commies as thinking they’re degrading American society beyond mere Capture and Torture” or, is he saying, “The garden club mentality takes boredom so far beyond value that we can even cross racial distinctions with total impunity and the feeble Americans will never know the difference”?

    This is one of my favorite issues inside the film, but the film attains Most Favorite Status because of the twist ending, the absolutely most villainous characterization in film history (for me, at least), and contains my most favorite performances by every character aboard.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And I’ll vote a hearty Thumbs-Down on the remake. I like every actor going into that remake, but I still lowered my expectations on the wise advice: “It’s still a remake of a Most Favorite Film.”

    And yet, with expectations lowered, it was still a remake that stained every actor in it. Every actor deserves the tarnishment, too. I would have given them sufficient intelligence to know there are sacrosanct films, and they should have hung up the phone and not given kajillions of payola a second thought.

    Yet, there they are – some favorite actors of mine. Violating a sacrosanct film. I find no forgiveness, and they’ll never be as elevated as before.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw the film on the big screen and thought it was great. It was a chilling and suspenseful movie, and sweet ol’ Angela Lansbury was down right manipulative. James Gregory always seemed to play the bumbling, epitome of the peter principle in work, look at him in Barney Miller. The coolness and detachment of the ‘candidate’ is something that shocked people especially coming from a well respected man of the community.

    I didn’t bother w/the remake. Why should I? This is one the best films I’ve seen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello there and thank you for the kind compliment. Manchurian Candidate changed how I view films and gave me complete appreciation for the acting craft. To attempt to remake this classic was very much like taking the winds out of the sails of a majestic ship. One should never try to remake an idea so masterfully done. I’ll never tire of watching this masterpiece. Again, thank you for your reply.

      Liked by 1 person

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