John Frankenheimer’s political thriller based on the 1959 Richard Condon novel hinges on two things – solitaire and an international communist conspiracy.
The Korean War has just ended. Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) has returned home to a hero’s welcome and been awarded the Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery. But Shaw is not really a hero. The captain of his platoon, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) has been plagued by a disturbing nightmare in which Shaw is an assassin. In Marco’s nightmare, the whole platoon has been brainwashed by communists, but Shaw alone was selected as the assassin. Another soldier, Allen Melvin (James Edwards) reveals that he too has suffered from the same nightmare. When Marco and Melvin identify communist leaders they each saw in the dream, an investigation is launched. The nightmare is real.
The Manchurian Candidate is political nightmare as well as satire. Its bound together by a tightly coiled script, deft pacing, and a subdued brand of horror. The ever mounting dread builds up in the most subtle way.
Despite an early showing of greatness from Janet Leigh, her character more or less fades into the background. And James Edwards’ time onscreen is regrettably brief. But his big scene, where he awakes in terror following the nightmare and proceeds to rattle off robotically that Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest man he’s ever known (a result of the brainwashing), is one reason why his presence onscreen was so affecting, even if he never got the starring roles.
Frank Sinatra is also very good, in a way that still allows him to be noticed, because he’s the least interesting compared to Laurence Harvey. Raymond Shaw strikes a cold and distant figure with his mask like face, the anger and hatred for his mother and stepfather breaking through occasionally.
But the real stand out here is Angela Lansbury as Shaw’s imperious, calculating, evil mother Eleanor. You really have to marvel at her versatility as an actress. It’s unbelievable almost, to think of her as a musical star, the sweet Jessica Fletcher, a Disney Legend even, playing a role like this and being so frightfully good and convincing.
This is my (late) entry for the May installment of the Blind Spot series, hosted by The Matinee. Click the banner below to see what everyone else has been watching.