The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The most confounding of all the mind-blowing ideas generated by John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate is that a nearly 40-year-old flick can still seem so relevant. (Another wig-flipper: This darkly comic Cold War thriller was directed by the same guy who did the bone-headed Reindeer Games). Adapted by George Axelrod from Richard Condon's novel, Candidate is built on an astute premise as evergreen as it is chilling--that America's willingness to be distracted and divided by partisan hysteria could be its undoing. Years after his Korean War service, Army intelligence officer Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra, in a performance so restrained you'll forget he can sing too) figures out that his battalion and its wet-blanket commanding officer, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), were captured and brainwashed by Communist agents during the war. Meanwhile, the dour, sharp-shooting CO--when not entranced by the various cues he's conditioned to respond to--attempts to liberate himself from his domineering, coldly ambitious mother (a stellar Angela Lansbury), who has married a buffoonish, rabidly anti-Red senator. The year after its release Candidate was pulled from distribution (by Sinatra, who bought the rights) because of its uncomfortable thematic proximity to the Kennedy assassination, and it remained MIA for 25 years. In the wake of another real-life national catastrophe, that response is yet another thing about the film that seems unnervingly prescient.