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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

By Blake de Pastino | Posted 2/9/2005

Few films are so thoroughly a product of their time. John Frankenheimer’s adventure in poli-sci-fi was a soundboard for the greenest insecurities of midcentury America, from the widely held fear that communist China had perfected the methods of brainwashing to the (still current) belief that the only thing worse than a power-starved man is a power-starved woman. So pity young Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), victim of both these plagues, a recent Korean War vet and the son of an empty-suit U.S. senator (James Gregory) who’s being operated by a conniving wife (Angela Lansbury, in her best performance). But it’s not until one of Shaw’s old Army buddies (Frank Sinatra, finding that place between brave and half-crazed) starts having nightmares about Chinese head games that he tracks down Shaw and learns just how deep the manipulations go. Frankenheimer’s fever-dream brainwashing sequences continue to provide some of the best mind fucks in mainstream cinema, and the sweaty-upper-lip finale still clicks, despite its implausibility today. Indeed, it’s the very datedness of The Manchurian Candidate that makes it work so well now, which is probably why Jonathan Demme saw fit to remake it in 2004, and why he failed.

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