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Despite having been made nearly four decades ago, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remains one of the most powerful political thrillers ever committed to film. Based upon the novel by Richard Condon, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is the story of a Korean War era Congressional Medal of Honor winner who, along with his platoon, is abducted and brainwashed by Chinese/Soviet forces looking to gain a foothold in the United States. Laurence Harvey stars as Raymond Shaw, the Medal of Honor recipient and stepson of a US Senator who has been programmed as the perfect assassin by the communists. Raymond’s conditioning places him in a trance like state, which allows him to kill without guilt or knowledge of his actions. Raymond returns to civilian life and awaits his activation, without the knowing that there is a ticking time bomb in his head.

Laurence Harvey delivers a mesmerizing performance, making the boorish and highly un-likable Raymond a character that garners audience sympathy. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE also stars Frank Sinatra, as Major Bennett Marco, Raymond’s commanding officer and fellow abductee whose nightmares about the past lead him to believe that there is something horribly wrong with Raymond Shaw. Janet Leigh portrays Rosie, the young woman whom Major Marco meets while on a forced medical leave. Angela Lansbury delivers the strongest screen performance of her career as Raymond’s scheming political climbing mother. Lansbury is diabolical perfection as Mrs. Iselin. She creates one of the screen’s greatest depictions of evil; a woman, whose ruthlessness knows no bounds, yet is hidden behind a facade of smarmy self-righteousness.

James Gregory is simply great as Senator John Iselin, Raymond’s stepfather. Iselin is a political dupe who is easily manipulated by his wife. Henry Silva portrays Chunjin, the interpreter who delivers Raymond and his platoon into the waiting hands of communist forces. The cast of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE also features John McGiver as Senator Thomas Jordon and Leslie Parrish as his daughter Jocie Jordon. In THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod have created some of the silver screen’s most disturbing moments. The brainwashing sequence is disorienting brilliance; switching in a blurred fashion between the point of view of the conditioned subjects and reality. The film’s tension filled climax is an emotional Rollercoaster ride, certain to leave a lasting impression.

MGM Home Entertainment offers THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE in both cropped and Letterboxed presentations. The cropped presentation doesn’t remove too much from the film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but Frankenheimer uses the full width of the frame, causing characters to disappear into nothingness. However, the black and white image will be acceptable to undiscriminating viewers. The Letterboxed presentation restores most of the film’s theatrical framing and is far more satisfying. Blacks are deep black while the image has superior contrast and fine detail. MPEG-2 compression artifacts were hardly a problem on either presentation.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack has acceptable fidelity and will take a fair amount of amplification. Other soundtrack options include French and Spanish language tracks. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus offer access to a number of supplemental features including an audio commentary by director Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer’s talk does offer a lot of interesting facts about the production, but is too sparse at times. Perhaps a film historian with specific questions about uncovered aspects of the film would have been helpful. Other supplements include an interview with Frank Sinatra, John Frankenheimer and writer George Axelrod, as well as a theatrical trailer, trivia and production notes.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is one of cinema’s great masterworks. It should be part of every personal DVD collection. Absolutely recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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