The Manchurian Candidate John Frankenheimer

The Manchurian Candidate John Frankenheimer
In its day, The Manchurian Candidate was a shockingly timely film, but it was actually yanked from circulation for almost 25 years for being too prescient. When it was released in 1962, it was a scathing critique of McCarthyism and the idea that there was a communist conspiracy operating within the U.S. government. But what garnered it so much attention was that its lone gunman assassination plotline bore a too-creepy resemblance to the assassination of JFK. (A fact that was particularly disturbing to star Frank Sinatra, who was a friend to Kennedy and who took the role because Jack was a fan of the book.) This reissue is not the film's return to consciousness after that long absence, but its arrival is surely timed for the Jonathan Demme remake (starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber). No matter — the film remains a taut, tightly wound political thriller driven by excellent performances and an innovative and beautifully shot dream sequence that reveals everything. Frank Sinatra does the best work of his acting career here, while Laurence Harvey is excellent as a war hero and brainwashing victim. But the greatest accolades are due to Angela Lansbury, who portrays Harvey's mother (despite being only a year older than he) without aging makeup or an obviously dowdy wardrobe, simply on the power of some remarkable acting chops. Even more than 30 years on, looking past the quaint anti-communist hysteria, The Manchurian Candidate still has sharp political teeth. That fact isn't really explored in a variety of "beyond the grave" extras, like interviews with Sinatra (who died in 1998) and director Frankenheimer, who clearly recorded his commentary before his 2002 death. They're not that interesting, nor is the "appreciation" by William Friedkin, but the film itself seems remarkably modern in its cynical political view and eye towards an implausible conspiracy. Here's hoping the new one retains some of that bite. (MGM)