Monday, June 25, 2012
Movie Review: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury
Directed by: John Frankenheimer
I fell off the wagon, reviewing my top ten films, and for that I apologize. Picking up where we left off, at number 6 in my top ten list: The Manchurian Candidate
Synopsis: In the wake of the Korean war, Major Ben Marco (Sinatra) is experiencing terrifying nightmares, along withe rest of the men in his unit. In the nightmares, his beloved former Sergeant, Raymond Shaw ('the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever met'),commits atrocious acts of violence without a hint of conscience. Placed on indefinite sick leave, Marco contacts Shaw (Harvey) to discuss the terrifying dreams and is even more devastated to learn the Raymond is just as cold and disconnected in person as he appears in his nightmares. In his efforts to research the situation, Marco discovers even more disturbing facts about Shaw and the poltical ambitions of his calculating and domineering mother (Lansbury).
The Film: At first glance, this is not a typical 'woman's movie'. However, I am not a typical female viewer. I tend to love movies with few female cast members and lots of testosterone (i.e. The Great Escape, Lawrence of Arabia). That said, there is no doubt in my mind that most women would find this movie fascinating. The idea of 'brainwashing' still gives us chills and makes for an exciting and memorable story, especially when coupled with a cast as great as this one.
The Players: If the rest of the cast were less than stellar, I would still watch this movie for Angela Lansbury alone. Not only is her performance one of my all time favorites, she manages to make Eleanor Iselin one of the quintessential villians of the silver screen. She is a twisted, icy woman of purely evil intent and the sense of dread she gives the viewer with her every utterance can't be over emphasized.There is a nonchalance and a steely control evident in her portrayal of this character that creates even more unease as the film progresses. Since underplaying the role is so key to it's success, there is no wonder that her performance has reached legendary status.
Thankfully, the rest of the cast also delivers. Sinatra is excellent as the determined and distraught Major Marco. Lawrence Harvey is by turns amusingly wry and charmingly sinister. The female cast is not limited to Lansbury, when it comes to finesse. Janet Leigh is both sexy and supportive as Ben's love interest and no one can deny the appeal of the underrated Leslie Parrish, who might be one of the most adorable screen sirens of her day.
Final Thoughts: There are scenes in this movie that remain dated by today's standards, and this may have very well prompted the lack-luster remake, which was a failure. But Frankenheimer's direction still remains true to its vision and poignantly effective concerning the message of political corruption. From the mysterious opening sequence to the final suspenseful moments, it's a masterpiece of the genre.
My rating: 10/10
Style Score: 6/10
The male dominated cast, subject matter, and casual settings prevent style from being a resonating force in this flick. But Parrish's glimmering locks and Leigh's deadly pencil skirts still make a much needed impact on the female psyche.