The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

manchurian candidate poster 1962 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Clever, inventive, ahead of its time


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Manchurian Candidate

Studio:  M.C. Productions

Genre(s): Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s): October 24, 1962

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

manchurian candidate hypnosis scene

We will break them!

Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and his squad are captured while on a mission during the Korean War.  Freeing his fellow soldiers, Raymond comes home a hero, but something happened on that mission that none of the surviving soldiers can recall.  Haunted by nightmares, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) begins to question if the nightmares are actually something more.  Raymond meanwhile finds himself back under the thumb of his controlling mother (Angela Lansbury) who, with his stepfather Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), are in a position to become a major force in American politics.  Bennett must find answers quickly and the truth might be horrifying.

Directed by John Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate is a political thriller.  The movie is an adaptation of Richard Condon’s 1959 novel and was released to positive reviews.  The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Film Editing, and it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1994.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #803).

manchurian candidate 1962 debriefing frank sinatra

“I feel I can say that this is the bad guy…and thanks to him, I know a lot about hydrangeas…”

The Manchurian Candidate is one of those movies that has a lot of cultural reference.  The movie and the novel are always a political touch point when someone appears to have been corrupted by a foreign source.  The Manchurian Candidate is a solid, “modern” film that holds up over the years.

The story is smart, and since its release, it has been influential.  The idea of corruption, spies, and sleeper agents are now the norms in political thrillers.  The movie also became unnaturally significant due to the turmoil of the 1960s.  Kennedy’s assassination and the problems in Vietnam made this movie’s plot and storyline have continuing relevance…the fact that it is put together well is just a bonus.

The movie was greenlit due to Frank Sinatra’s involvement.  Sinatra really isn’t that bad of an actor though he was often shoehorned into roles due to his popularity.  Here, he has a weird co-starring, starring role.  His storyline is shared with Laurence Harvey who is in battle with his own mind.  Laurence is intentionally unlikable at points, but he is also a tragic character (even before he captured) due to the great Angela Lansbury in one of the most enduring “villain” roles in a movie.  The fact she is so cold and so chilling toward her own son makes her memorable (she was only three years older than her “son”).

manchurian candidate angela lansbury laurence harvey solitaire

Why don’t you play a game of cards?

The movie has a lot of stylized directing.  The film is a bit unusual in that it has a narrator which helps clarify what is occurring because it was so modern.  The hypnosis scene is a great example of how modern the film looks.  The mixing of the hypnosis with the “hydrangea” scene is so cleverly done and with a technological skill that really plays with the viewers’ minds.  The fact that it was all done with practical effects might be forgotten by some since some of the mixing would have been done digitally today.

The Manchurian Candidate is one of those films that made a genre.  Many of the political thrillers that came after this like Three Days of the Condor and even the stories of Jack Ryan feel like they owe a lot to The Manchurian Candidate, both the novel and the film.  A second adaptation of the novel was released in 2004 starring Denzel Washington and Live Schreiber in the lead roles.

Related Links:

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response