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MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Frankenheimer
Cast:
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

Tagline:
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!

Synopsis:
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.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.75:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 7/13/2004

Bonus:
• 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
• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Manchurian Candidate: Special Edition (1962)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 13, 2004)

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 back-stabbing 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 do 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 DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Manchurian Candidate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This represented a new transfer for the film, one that still had some problems but that also marked a definite improvement.

For the most part, sharpness seemed nicely 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 distinct and accurate. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, though some mild edge enhancement cropped up periodically throughout the flick.

Print flaws seemed quite minor, especially given the film’s age. Grain manifested itself in a mild way, and those instances came from the source. The occasional speck popped up during the movie, but those elements remained modest and caused very few distractions.

Black levels came across as deep and dense. Dark tones offered some of the DVD’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. Ultimately, the visuals of Candidate seemed satisfying.

Another change from the original DVD came with a remixed Dolby Digital 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”.

Happy note: MGM included the original monaural soundtrack along with this new remix. I always think DVDs should present the original audio, so even though I like the remix, I’m very pleased to get the mono track too.

How did the audio and picture of this new disc compare with the original release of Candidate? Both improved on the prior set. The picture seemed tighter and also diminished the amount of source flaws. The quality of the 5.1 track’s audio was similar, but the greater breadth and involvement of the multi-channel mix scored it points.

This new edition of The Manchurian Candidate expands on the supplements found with the first offers a few supplemental features. I’ll denote those that appear on both discs with an asterisk.

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 found on the DVD. Recorded in 1988, this seven minute and 34 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 and 49 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 and 16 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, we find more ads under different banners. “MGM Means Great Movies” and “Other Great Academy Award Winners” present compilation promos. The Photo Gallery gives us 57 shots from the set. Finally, the DVD’s booklet presents some basic notes about the project.

A couple of Easter eggs appear. Go up from the “Exclusive Interview” to see a 25-second outtake from Friedkin’s session. Click to the right from “Other Great MGM Releases” and we get a 66-second snippet in which Lansbury discusses one particular acting choice.

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 DVD provides very good picture and audio along with an inconsistent but decent set of supplements.

I definitely recommend this new version of Candidate. Folks who don’t own the old release can’t go wrong with this one, as the movie’s a keeper and the DVD seems positive. Those who have the prior edition also should snag the new one. It improves upon the old one in every way, and with a very low list price of less than $15, it won’t hurt too many pocketbooks. Kudos to MGM for a good reissue of a great film at a terrific price.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9 Stars Number of Votes: 30
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