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John Frankenheimer
Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver
Writing Credits:
Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer

If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won't know what it's all about! When you've seen it all, you'll swear there's never been anything like it!

Eerie, shocking, daring, thrilling and mesmerizing, The Manchurian Candidate "will leave you breathless" (People)! Featuring an all-star cast, including Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated performance, this "chilling and controversial" (Leonard Maltin) film "may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made" (Pauline Kael).

When a platoon of Korean War G.I.s are captured, they somehow end up at a ladies' garden club party. Or do they? Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) can't remember. As he searches for the answer, he discovers threads of a diabolical plot orchestrated by the utterly ruthless Mrs. Iselin (Lansbury) and involving her war hero son (Laurence Harvey), her senator husband (James Gregory) and a secret cabal of enemy leaders.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 4/11/2011

• Audio Commentary with Director John Frankenheimer
• Interview with Frank Sinatra, John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod
• “Queen of Diamonds” Featurette with Angela Lansbury
• “A Little Solitaire” Featurette with William Friedkin
• Trailer
• Photo Gallery


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Manchurian Candidate [Blu-Ray] (1962)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 24, 2011)

In 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, we find a film that was ahead of its time. The story looks at a group of Korean War veterans who all have recurring nightmares about their involvement in that conflict. More specifically, they imagine that they’ve experienced some sort of bizarre events that leave them permanently scarred.

As the film progresses, we find out more about the nature of what happened to these men. It appears our friends the Communists got their hands on our boys and used them to show the power of hypnotism. As such, all of the men operate under false memories about their actions in the war, and one of them has been programmed to be an assassin.

Candidate works as a taut and exciting political thriller in which our main protagonist, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), struggles to come to grips with his demons and find out the truth about his indoctrination. The film’s other main character is Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), a sergeant in Marco’s group. Though the movie’s opening scenes show the platoon’s general dislike for Shaw, their cumulative memory of him is that of a hero and a virtual saint. Marco works to expose the facts and attempt to stop calamity from coming.

Shaw’s position is made additionally intriguing because of his heritage. His mother (Angela Lansbury) remarried Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory), a sleazy moron who aspires to be another Joe McCarthy. Mrs. Iselin is the brains of the operation, and she keeps the red-baiting dope on a short leash. She also tries hard to maintain a tight grip over Raymond, though the reasons for her need for firm control don’t emerge until late in the movie as the assassin gets his important assignment.

It seems somewhat astonishing that such a film appeared in the fairly benign climate of the early Sixties. A piece such as this would appear more at home during the paranoid and cynical post-Watergate era, not during the years of Kennedy’s Camelot. Nonetheless, although it may have been out of place at the time - which probably explains its lack of box office success - director John Frankenheimer creates a cleanly realized and compelling look at an insidious world of backstabbing and deception.

Even when one knows the outcome of Candidate, it remains a tense experience. On one hand, the story seems fairly ludicrous, but Candidate manages enough realism to make the whole thing eminently believable and terribly spooky. The eerie qualities undoubtedly escalated the following year when Kennedy was killed; doubtless many wondered if a real-life dupe such as this film’s assassin was to blame for that tragedy.

That possibility seems remote, but the drama of Candidate still works well after more than four decades. In addition to the tight pacing and paranoid tone maintained by Frankenheimer, Candidate benefits from some terrific acting. Truly, the whole cast provides excellent work, and Sinatra is very solid, but Lansbury and Harvey probably provide the best performances. Harvey creates an interesting anti-hero with layers of complexity; while Shaw indeed is a jerk, he’s not a simple one, and as the story unfolds, we learn more about his emotional scars. As his mother, Lansbury proves to be supremely wicked and Machiavellian. Mrs. Iselin is more cartoonish than Raymond, but Lansbury still brings her to life within the evil constraints of the role.

Trivia note: Candidate offers yet another movie in which an actor isn’t even remotely old enough to be the parent of another performer. Lansbury was born almost exactly three years before Harvey. Still, that doesn’t top the precedent set in 1948’s Hamlet. For that film, Laurence Olivier cast Eileen Herlie as his mother despite the fact that she was 13 years younger than he! What is it with guys named Laurence and their too-young mothers?

Despite that aspect of the casting, I found The Manchurian Candidate to provide a consistently taut and exciting experience. The movie seemed ahead of its time four decades ago, and it continues to hold up well. Now you’ll have to excuse me so I can play a little Solitaire…

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Manchurian Candidate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a generally positive presentation but not one without concerns.

For the most part, sharpness seemed pretty crisp and detailed. A few “deep focus” shots appeared slightly soft, but those instances stemmed from the source material and couldn’t be helped. There’s also one notable scene in which Sinatra remained out of focus, but that also came from the original negative. Most of the film was fairly distinct and accurate.

No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained light to non-existent. Print flaws were a bit of a distraction, though, as a mix of specks, spots and blemishes showed up through the movie. These were heaviest in the film’s early moments and less prominent as it progressed, but they still cropped up enough to create more distractions than I’d like.

Black levels came across as deep and dense. Dark tones offered some of the image’s highlights, as they seemed nicely rich. Shadow detail generally appeared solidly clear and opaque except for some early shots that used “day for night” photography. As is typical of that technique, these scenes appeared overly dark and thick. The source defects made this a “B“ presentation, but it still looked pretty good most of the time.

The film provided a remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. This opened up the spectrum in a surprisingly engaging manner. The audio often remained fairly monaural, but it broadened well at times. The battle sequences offered the most active elements, as they showed localized gunfire and vehicle movement. These came from all around and included the surrounds well.

The pieces didn’t blend together terribly smoothly, as the bits stayed “speaker-specific” much of the time, but the audio earned some points for ambition, and the hard delineation didn’t cause distractions. The music showed passable stereo imaging, though it came across largely as broad mono and didn’t present great definition of the elements.

Audio quality was fine for a movie from 1962. At times dialogue sounded somewhat brittle and bright, but speech usually came across as accurate and acceptably natural, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Music sounded clear and adequately smooth; highs lacked bite but lows seemed nice for an older mix.

Effects occasionally seemed a little distorted - mainly during combat scenes - but for the most part they were clean and distinct. I detected some mild tape hiss and background noise throughout much of the movie. The audio didn’t blow me away, but its quality and scope earned it a “B”.

Unfortunate note: though the prior DVD included the film’s original monaural audio, the Blu-ray drops that track.

How did the audio and picture of this new disc compare with the 2004 Special Edition DVD of Candidate? Both exhibited similar audio; even a lossless option can’t do much with nearly 50-year-old root material. Visuals showed improvements, though the source flaws limited the impact of these; the Blu-ray was too dirty to offer a slam-dunk step up in quality. Nonetheless, it did offer the more satisfying presentation, as the Blu-ray tended to be sharper and richer.

Most of the 2004 DVD’s extras repeat here. First up is a running audio commentary from director John Frankenheimer. When he speaks, he provides some very compelling information that adds insight into the production. Unfortunately, Frankenheimer lets much of the movie pass without any information.

It’s an excellent piece when Frankenheimer offers his thoughts, though. He covers a nice variety of topics, from alterations made to the original novel to casting to his overall intentions as a director. He tosses in some great anecdotes along the way, including one gem about a screening in Greece. Ultimately, Frankenheimer’s commentary can be frustrating due to its many silent stretches, but it nonetheless provides more than enough excellent details to merit a listen.

Less valuable is the Exclusive Interview. Recorded in 1988, this seven minute and 59 second piece gathers director/writer Frankenheimer, actor Sinatra, and producer/writer George Axelrod together to discuss the film. All three men were corralled into one room where they interacted with each other and reminisced about the movie.

It’s a great idea, but the result is less than thrilling. We hear some basic information about the movie and get a few decent anecdotes, but the absence of an actual interviewer harms the piece; an outside presence may have better focused the men’s thoughts. Still, the brevity of the program means that it doesn’t become excessively tiresome, so I thought it was worth a look.

Under the moniker Queen of Diamonds, we get an interview with actor Angela Lansbury. This goes for 14 minutes, 51 seconds as she discusses her casting, her approach to the role, working with Frankenheimer, specifics about shooting a few scenes, almost working with Sinatra and some impressions of him and the other actors, and a few general remarks. Lansbury gets into some interesting topics and provides a modicum of useful notes, but the program lacks much depth. It feels superficial and only moderately informative.

Another featurette called A Little Solitaire runs 13 minutes, 17 seconds. It presents filmmaker William Friedkin’s thoughts on Candidate. He goes into his thoughts about Frankenheimer’s style and work, Sinatra’s spontaneous nature and conflict with the director, stylistic and editing choices, Janet Leigh’s part and some other supporting roles, his reactions to Harvey’s and Lansbury’s performances, and the film’s impact and connections to real life. This program fits in with the Lansbury one neatly. It covers a few salient points but fails to deliver many notable bits. It suffers from too many movie clips and too little concrete data, so it presents an only moderately informative piece.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, some extras that appeared as Easter eggs on the old DVD can be easily accessed here. With How to Get Shot, we get a 67-second snippet in which Lansbury discusses one particular acting choice. Phone Call runs 26 seconds and shows a funny outtake from Friedkin.

Although many movies seem dated within months of their release, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate has barely aged a day over the last four decades. It remains a taut and tense piece that manages to be eerie and thrilling throughout its entire running time. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture and audio along with an inconsistent but decent set of supplements. The film could use a new transfer, but the Blu-ray still offered the best home video presentation of the flick to date.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main