The Manchurian Candidate is a film made in 1962, by director John Frankenheimer, and stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury in the primary roles.
The plot centers around Raymond Shaw, played by Harvey, who has been brainwashed by Communist forces while at war in Korea. His unit has been captured and he is chosen as their candidate. His goal is to kill a certain presidential nominee, with help from his mother (Lansbury), who is in cahoots with the Communists. The rest of his army friends that were captured are also brainwashed into believing that Shaw is a fantastic soldier and generally the nicest man they ever met.
To test that he is fully under their control, the Communists make Shaw kill two of his fellow soldiers. In the highlight scene of the film, he does so willingly, one by strangulation and the other by a gunshot to the head. After proving himself a killer, he is dispatched to America to fulfil his goal.
Upon their return to the States, Major Ben Marco (Sinatra), is having terrible, recurring nightmares about Raymond Shaw. Marco has also been programmed to say, when asked, that Shaw is a great person, but he knows in his own mind that he dislikes him. Through constant badgering of his superiors, he finally convinces them that something is wrong with him and his army buddies. He identifies two Communist members who were present at the scene of the two murders., while one of his friends also identifies the exact same men.
What follows, without giving too much more away, is a struggle between Sinatra, the tortured Harvey and his domineering mother. This involves much deception, excellent plot points and masterful storytelling.
While watching the film, what struck me was how gritty and realistic it was, especially for 1962. It features a very hard hitting fight between Sinatra and a giant Korean manservant. This brawl is a destructive tour de force, where they demolish furniture and themselves. It also uses martial arts, which were not very prevalent back then. It is quite violent for a film of that era, and contains various bloody gunshots and the shooting of women.
The camera work in this picture is fantastic, featuring great close ups. The editing is also slick and superb, especially during the closing scene. Look out for the shot of rain rolling down a window after a shooting, which due to a great cut looks like blood running down a wall.
Sinatra and Harvey both play their parts very well, but the acting award definitely goes to Angela Lansbury. Winning a Golden Globe for supporting actress and Oscar nominated, she is brilliant. For those of you only familiar with her work as the affable Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, prepare to be amazed. Despite being only thirty six and only three years older than her on screen son, she thoroughly pulls it off.
The film was remade in 2004, featuring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep in the Marco, Shaw and mother roles respectively. It does not match the quality of the first, despite being a good remake. Please watch the original and do not let the fact that it is in black and white mar your perception of a truly classic film.