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Manchurian Candidate, The

Entry updated 30 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1962). MC/Essex/United Artists. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by George Axelrod, based on The Manchurian Candidate (1959) by Richard Condon. Cast includes James Gregory, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, John McGiver, Henry Silva and Frank Sinatra. 126 minutes. Black and white.

A group of US soldiers captured in Korea are subjected to elaborate brainwashing by the Chinese as part of a plot to subvert and eventually to rule America. As part of the elaborate scheme, they are programmed to believe that Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey) is a hero; but later, back in America, his commanding officer, Major Ben Marco (Sinatra), begins to have nightmares in which Shaw kills other American soldiers on command, the first step in his slow discover that Shaw has been programmed – this is the strongest sf element – to become a killing machine on command. Once activated for a mission, he loses his normal Identity and is subsequently a victim of an increasingly fragile Amnesia about the horrors he is party to.

The surface story slowly dovetails into the subterranean plot. Shaw is dominated by his red-baiting mother, Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Lansbury), and feels utter contempt for his stepfather John Yerkes Iselin (Gregory), an obvious and hilarious Satirical version of Senator Joe McCarthy (1908-1957). As the intricate plot unfolds, it is revealed that Eleanor Iselin herself is the chief Chinese agent in America, and that Shaw has been programmed to kill the current Republican presidential candidate so that John Iselin can become president under the control of China. At the last moment, Marco unravels the puzzle. The resulting climax at the Party convention – as Raymond shoots his mother and step-father at the moment of their triumph then shoots himself – is choreographed with great panache by Frankenheimer, whose best film this probably is, though it owes much to the wit and intelligence of Axelrod's screenplay, which is faithful to the novel.

The political reverberations of The Manchurian Candidate darkened after President Kennedy's assassination a year later. [JB/PN/JC]

2. Film (2004). Paramount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions, Clinica Estetico. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Written by Dean Georgaris and Daniel Pyne from the 1962 screenplay by George Axelrod based on The Manchurian Candidate (1959) by Richard Condon. Cast includes Eddie Ingram, Dean Olmstead, Lieve Schreiber, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight and Denzel Washington. 129 minutes. Colour.

This surprisingly sophisticated remake of the unsurpassable 1962 film (1 above) is set in an Paranoia-inducing Near Future, a few years after the second American Invasion of Iraq in 2003, with America more and more resembling a police state. The underlying story reworks the original tale, most of the significant changes serving to update the action and to re-point the Satire. Neatly, it is Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) himself who becomes a rising politician and Vice Presidential candidate; Major Ben Marco (Washington) suffers from increasing doubts about Raymond as before, but this time around finds that both men have been implanted with Nanotech command devices manufactured by Manchurian Global, a Weapons manufacturer whose markets stretch across the world (and which replaces China as the source of evil). The climax of the film achieves the same conclusion by different means: both men ultimately resist their conditioning; Shaw, whose relationship with his mother Eleanor Shaw (Streep) is even more nakedly incestuous than in the previous film, performs an intimate victory dance with her at the election night party, enabling Marco, who had been activated to assassinate the President-Elect, to shoot them instead.

An already dead Manchurian Global patsy is soon framed by the FBI for the incident, which seems to have been no more than a setback for the American government and the Secret Masters who control it. Back visiting the compound where he had been brainwashed and implanted, Marco stares blankly at the nearby dismembering sea, into which he has tossed Shaw's Medal of Honor. Condon's profound cynicism about modern American could not be deepened; it is, however, adequately updated here. [JC]

see also: Cinema.


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