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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

A former Korean War POW is brainwashed by Communists into becoming a political assassin. But another former prisoner may know how to save him.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/15/2016

• Audio Commentary with Director John Frankenheimer
• Interview with Frank Sinatra, John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod
• Interview with Actor Angela Lansbury
• Interview with Documentarian Errol Morris
• Interview with Historian/Author Susan Carruthers
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; 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.


The Manchurian Candidate: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1962)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 2, 2016)

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 the Communists from the USSR and China 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 Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) struggles to come to grips with his demons and find out the truth about his indoctrination. We also focus on 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.

Additional intrigue connects to Shaw’s situation 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 her red-baiting husband 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.

The drama of Candidate still works well after more than five 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.

The Manchurian Candidate provides 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…

Trivia note: Candidate offers 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?

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

The Manchurian Candidate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with an excellent transfer.

Overall sharpness seemed solid. Any instances of softness remained negligible, as the movie usually looked tight and concise. Even when the image lost a bit of definition – such as during a close-up of Sinatra late in the film – the issues stemmed from the source. I saw no shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes failed to materialize. Print flaws were nearly non-existent; I viewed one quick streak and a minor mark, but the vast majority of the movie seemed clearn.

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; “day for night” shots came with the expected thickness, but that wasn’t the fault of the transfer. I felt very pleased with this strong presentation.

The movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack was fine for a movie from 1962. 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. The audio didn’t blow me away, but its quality earned it a “B”.

How did the Criterion release compare with the original Blu-ray from 2011? Audio differed, as the 2011 disc only included a 5.l remix; it left off the original mono found here. That remix worked well enough, but I prefer the 1962 mono.

Picture quality demonstrated a decent step up. The Criterion release came across as tighter and cleaner than the MGM version. The old disc worked fine, but the Criterion version gave up improvements.

The Criterion release mixes new and old extras. From 1997, we get an audio commentary with director John Frankenheimer, who provides a running, screen-specific chat. 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.

Another piece found on earlier DVDs, a 1988 Interview involves three of the film’s primary participants. This seven-minute, 49-second piece gathers director/writer Frankenheimer, actor FrankSinatra, and producer/writer George Axelrod 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 seems 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, as 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 it’s worth a look.

Three Criterion exclusives follow. From November 2015, an interview with actor Angela Lansbury runs 10 minutes, 48 seconds. It gives us Lansbury’s thoughts about working with Frankenheimer and how she got her role, thoughts about other cast and crew, and the film’s legacy. No one will mistake this for a deep discussion, but Lansbury offers an enjoyable conversation.

Also from November 2015, an interview with documentarian Errol Morris lasts 16 minutes, 33 seconds. Morris discusses the film’s era and influences as well as an appreciation for the movie. I’m not sure Morris adds a lot of insight, but he provides a decent overview.

Another November 2015 program, we get a 20-minute, 51-second interview with historian/author Susan Carruthers. She chats about historical elements related to the film, with an emphasis on brainwashing. Carruthers delivers an insightful overview that adds to our understanding of the movie.

Finally, we get the film’s trailer and a foldout booklet. On one side, this provides an essay from film critic Howard Hampton, while the other side shows a poster. It offers a nice complement to the set.

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 excellent visuals as well as good audio and a generally useful set of supplements. Though I’d like a more expansive package of bonus materials, the representation of the film itself makes this the best Manchurian Candidate to date.

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

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