The Manchurian Candidate Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
Just over one percent of those active in the Korean War were awarded the Medal of Honor. One of these men was Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey, Jack Clayton’s A ROOM AT THE TOP), credited with saving nine of his men and leading them through enemy territory and into safety. He is a heralded hero in the States. Yet, something seems off…
One of the platoon’s members, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra, who by then had won his only Academy Award, for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), has begun having nightmares. In an early one, he sits beside Shaw during a garden party that is of highly questionable origin. When prompted, Shaw emotionlessly strangles a fellow American, bursting Marco out of his sleep. Not long after, another survivor has a dream in which Shaw is prompted to shoot a different American, which he robotically does. When each man wakes up, they state, as if someone is pressing play, “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
At the same time, Shaw’s mother, Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury, portraying one of the great villains in cinema history—the American Film Institute ranked her 21st on its list of 50 villains), is doing her part to stack the deck in ensuring her senator husband, John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory, who would later appear on TV’s BARNEY MILLER), makes a bid for the presidency. This, naturally, ties into the apparent brainwashing going on and the highly suspicious and sinister presence of the Queen of Diamonds.
There are mysteries abound in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, all of which, the viewer ca be assured, will be approached and solved. What, precisely, is Mrs. Iselin up to? Is Shaw’s brainwashing breakable? Where will all of this lead? How about where it will all lead once off the convention floor during the tense finale at Madison Square Garden?
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE might been prophetic had more specific circumstances been outlined in the film and its inspiration, Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name. The Cuban Missile Crisis was in the headlines, McCarthyism was sweeping the country (Senator Iselin is based on Joseph McCarthy himself) and JFK’s assassination occurred just over a year after the film’s premiere, but it is still difficult to buy so many of the ideas found on the screen…Isn’t it?
Written by George Axelrod (BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and the stellar BUS STOP) and directed by John Frankenheimer (the aforementioned ALL FALL DOWN; his filmography would later include such works as SECONDS, GRAND PRIX and BLACK SUNDAY), THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE might be the scariest political thriller ever made. It is a terrifying picture that, while not nearly as dangerous as it might appear considering the actual events occurring at the time, resonates, prompting the modern viewer to think, What if? And that may be the most troubling question such a film can pose.
Video: 1.75:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in $k resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative at Deluxe in Culver City, California. A previous video transfer supervised by Frankenheimer was used as a reference for the new master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter, and flicker.”
This is a stellar high-definition transfer that offers wonderful details, excellent contrast, deep black levels and an overall pleasing image that is clean and yet preserves the filmic quality.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm optical soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4.”
The audio is also without flaw, featuring clear dialogue and a noticeably crisp David Amram score.
Audio commentary from 1997 featuring director John Frankenheimer: Frankenheimer, who died in 2002, offers a thorough commentary in which he discusses his thoughts on the source novel, themes, key sequences and much more.
Angela Lansbury (10:48): Lansbury reflects on her working relationship with Frankenheimer, as well as THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE’s production.
Errol Morris (16:33): Documentary filmmaker Morris shares his thoughts on how THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE incorporates part of the country’s mindset of the time and how it “captured something real.”
George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer, and Frank Sinatra (7:49): In this 1988 interview, recorded for the 1988 rerelease of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, screenwriter Axelrod, Frankenheimer and star Sinatra touch on the production, politics and more of the film.
Susan Carruthers (20:51): Historian and author Carruthers offers insight and context surrounding what was occurring through wars during the 1950s, the Red Scare during the 1950s and the role of “brainwashing” and POWs.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Howard Hampton.