The Manchurian Candidate: Cold War Paranoia 101

Next we'll be watching The Manchurian Candidate, a 1960s political thriller guaranteed to make you suspicious of anyone and everyone...particularly well-bred looking yuppie types with a vacant look in their eye.  It clocks in at #367 on our list.

Congressional Medal of Honor winner Raymond Shaw returns home from Korea a hero.  He's got a really uncomfortable relationship with his social climbing mother and senator stepfather (there are some seriously sinister undertones), but other than that he seems like a pretty normal veteran.  Oh, except he's been brainwashed by communists.  Sorry, did I not mention?

His former commander, Major Marco (aka FRANK SINATRA), keeps having reoccuring dreams that detail the particulars of their brainwashing - most notably, when Shaw was commanded to kill two of their men, while they all just sat around, looking mildly bored.  Unsurprisingly, his superiors write it off as a touch of PTSD...although other members of the company start having the same dreams.

Major Marco tracks down Shaw and eventually figures out the trigger for his conditioning -- Solitaire, specifically the Queen of Diamonds.  He sets out to break the mind control...but not before Shaw murders his boss, wife, and father-in-law.  Whoops.  Finally he thinks he gets it right, and they send a (hopefully) unconditioned Shaw in to receive his final orders from the Big Bad.  Which turns out to be his mother, who is a communist agent.

I know.  So her plan is to have Shaw assassinate the Republican presidential nominee during his acceptance speech, so that her husband (his running mate) can dramatically endear himself to the American public during a time of crisis, and then the Commies will have someone in the White House.  No no no no, says Shaw, and at the crucial moment he shoots them in the head instead.  Nice.

Random Musings:

  • 30 seconds into her screen time and Angela Lansbury has already won my heart.  She's so controlling and screwed up and utterly delightful.

  • So...I'm expected to believe that Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey are American?  But...they're not even trying.  It's like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, but backwards.

  • This whole horticulture dream is officially weird as shit.  I love how elements of both scenes blend together to create this very surreal atmosphere.  And it really is incredibly chilling the way that they command Shaw to kill his friends -- especially when the young-looking one smiles lackadaisically at Shaw as he's about to get his brains blown out.

  • I'm quickly realizing that the best things to come out of the Cold War are as follows: James Bond movies and paranoid political thrillers. 

  • How come people in old movies always live in the classiest parts of Manhattan?  Janet Leigh's a production assistant, how the hell can she afford to live at 53 W 54th St?  Doesn't anyone live in Brooklyn?

  • I'm calling bullshit on this one.  Chunjin -- 100% fake "Oriental".  This guy is totally, like, Italian or something.

  • I never understood why people always try to clean cuts by spitting on a handkerchief and rubbing it on an open wound.  I'm not a doctor, but...that seems like it's only adding to the problem.

  • I have to admit that I'm a bit perplexed by Janet Leigh and Frank Sinatra's relationship.  She meets him on a train for a few hours, tops, and all of a sudden she's leaving her fiancee for him and running to go pick him up from jail and making out with him in a car.  See, I feel that if a girl's first date with a man involves picking him up at a jail, that's usually a red flag, but apparently Janet Leigh sees things differently.

  • OK, I have to admit, drunk Shaw is pretty amusing.  "I didn't always hate her.  What I was a child, I only kind of disliked her."  Aww and he's totally aware that he's not a lovable guy.  I like drunk Shaw very much.

Almost as much as I like this kitten.

  • What kind of poisonous snakes are native to Long Island?

  • Fun factoid: You know that movie Domino with Keira Knightley about the female bounty hunter that really didn't do much of anything at the box office and everyone was just kind of Meh about?  The guy who plays Raymond Shaw is that chick's father.  Woah.

  • How come earlier in the film, one red queen puts him under, but a second red queen breaks the spell - but then when Major Marco is trying to break the conditioning, multiple red queens amplify the effect and make him dig deeper into his hypnosis?

  • This movie has taught me that just as Helen Keller always wins in Apples to Apples, Angela Lansbury wins every movie she's in.  Even if she ends up with a Soviet grade large caliber bullet in her noggin...she still wins.

Murder She Wrote, Bitches.

This is an incredible, tense political thriller.  A lot of movies like this end up getting bogged down in a lot of dull intrigue, but this one keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  It fills you with a sense of paranoia that reflects the general feelings of the time.  Throughout the film, I suspected just about every major character of being a Soviet operative at one point or another.

Laurence Harvey turns in a great performance in such a difficult role.  He's not a likeable person even before he becomes the Soviet Union's butt monkey, yet the joyfulness he feels when he finally gets to be with the woman he loves, and the utter misery he's put through...well, it's hard to feel pity for the poor guy.  I really enjoyed this film, and I'm very pleased that I watched it.  Definitely deserves its place on the list!

Thanks for reading, and come back for my next review, which will most likely be Shadows, but could possibly be something else!

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