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“The Manchurian Candidate” Review – Laurence Harvey (Summer Under the Stars #11)

Thoughts on Laurence:

I’d actually never heard of him before watching this film, despite the fact that he was quite popular and appeared in many iconic films. Maybe now I’ll check out some of his other work, since I wasn’t impressed by him in this film.

TCM Movie Schedule:

  • King Richard and the Crusaders
  • The Good Die Young
  • Life at the Top
  • Two Loves
  • The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
  • The Outrage
  • The Running Man
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Walk on the Wild Side
  • Room at the Top
  • Of Human Bondage
  • Night Watch

Film Review:

A platoon of United States soldiers is brainwashed by the Chinese and Russian governments. Once they return home, the men are plagued by nightmares and one of them, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) tries to get down to the bottom of things.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962, John Frankenheimer) – Brandon's movie memory

This is a very strange movie to me. I really liked the first 30 minutes and the last 15 or so, but everything in between is a jumbled mess. It seems to be a critique of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, yet still places the US as the “good guys” and villainizes communist countries.

The treatment of the Asian characters in this is awful. First of all, they cast a two non-Asian men to play a Korean and Chinese man, and they are antagonists in the story.

It’s also very misogynistic, placing the women as villains or willing servants to the men. Angela Lansbury is a queen, I love her, but I’m also not sure why she got so typecast as the racist, incestuous mother?? She was only three years older than Laurence Harvey and plays his mother, yet he looks older than her.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) | MUBI

The other women, played by Janet Leigh and Leslie Parrish, don’t really serve a purpose to the plot other than being subservient eye candy. Leigh’s character could have been really interesting. I honestly thought she was a spy, but they didn’t really go anywhere with her relationship with Sinatra’s character. Which I think was a poor decision, since that could have actually explained some of her odd behaviors.

In the beginning, the film seems like it’s taking a pretty harsh stance on the United States government and army, which I thought was brave. But then it reverted back to putting the US as the heroes or an unwilling part of the story. The elements for an actually progressive critique are there, but it decides to be just another pro-America, anti-communism piece of propaganda instead.

I will say that the performances are pretty good, I’ve always been partial to Frank Sinatra and he’s great here. Lansbury is also super creepy and evil, though I didn’t like the way her character was framed.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) | The Criterion Collection

Laurence Harvey was the weakest link, which bothered me since he was the main character. About a third of the way through, he suddenly became British for no apparent reason and it was never addressed within the film. He also takes a more overly dramatic and theatrical approach to his performance, which felt out of place compared to the more complex performers.

The cinematography in the film is unique and helps build the tension and unease. The brainwashing sequence (which I’ve linked below) has some amazing editing and creative technical choices. However, entire scenes were extremely out of focus, which was bothersome and took me out of the movie. But otherwise it looked great.

Plotwise, I was left very confused. Things just kept happening for no reason, certain elements went unexplained, and the logic of a lot of it (mainly how the brainwashing worked) made little sense.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - IMDb

The main thing I struggled with was: why would they leave the other soldiers in the platoon alive? Wouldn’t they know that the effects of the brainwashing would start to wear off? Why didn’t they turn them into assassins too? And why did they neglect to really keep track of Harvey’s character after he was released from their control?

The plot was held together by a lot of loose threads that ultimately didn’t amount to much. There was a lot of potential for an actual commentary on the United States government and their approach/response to McCarthyism and communism. Ultimately, it didn’t seem like it really understood what it was going for, leaving me as a viewer also very unsure.

I would hardly classify this as a thriller, as the plot drags on for a majority of the middle section. The beginning is interesting and establishes a unique story, and the ending at Madison Square Garden was tense and handled well. But the mystery and drama were drained by the poor pacing and confusing plot points.

It’s mostly just disappointing because of how good it could have been, but it just seemed to take the easy way out instead of presenting something controversial.

Superlatives:

  • Favorite Scene: The Brainwashing
  • Favorite Character: Mrs. Iselin
  • Favorite Quote: “It’s not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He’s IMPOSSIBLE to like!”
  • Harvey’s Performance: He felt extremely miscast and his approach to the character didn’t feel right. He played the main character, yet he could not carry the film. I would give his performance a 1/5.
  • Would I Recommend? No, it’s kind of a drag. I haven’t seen the remake, but it might handle the subjects better?

Overall Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

audrey cornell View All

Audrey is a self-proclaimed film buff who loves to watch, read, and write about movies. Her passions include queer & feminist studies, watching obscure 80s/90s and Old Hollywood films, and discovering new music. She also writes for Scribe Magazine. Check out her podcast about actors who died young!

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