Derek Winnert

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This article was written on 14 Sep 2013, and is filled under Reviews.

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The Manchurian Candidate ***** (1962, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury) – Classic Movie Review 239

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This dazzling, brilliant Sixties conspiracy political thriller from 1962 is cleverly adapted by George Axelrod from Richard Condon’s famous novel. It won no Oscars but it’s now legendary, thanks to its ingenious plot that still works its corkscrew magic with a vice-like grip. It is a strong contender for John Frankenheimer’s finest film – and Frank Sinatra’s too.

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Laurence Harvey stars as Sergeant Raymond Shaw, a valiant Korean War hero and former PoW, who is brainwashed and programmed by communists to kill liberal US politicians. Angela Lansbury plays his ghastly mother, Mrs Eleanor Iselin, the evil puppet-master who ruthlessly pursues her ambitions for her right-wing husband Senator John Iselin (James Gregory). Understandably, Shaw hates both his domineering mother and his ambitious stepfather.

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Frank Sinatra also stars as another former Korean prisoner, intelligence officer Major Bennett Marco, who is having nightmares about two members of his old squad being killed by Shaw and is put on sick leave. He learns that others in his old unit are having similar nightmares and soon puts two and two together and it adds up to conspiracy to kill. It’s now up to him to stop Shaw and save the life of a top politician.

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Sinatra is perfectly cast, ideal and fired up, while Harvey gives one of his best, most involved, complex performances as the creepy political assassin. These are the kind of extraordinary, painstakingly detailed turns these two actors were always capable of but didn’t always give.

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Lansbury, cast against type, gives a classy, chilling turn that won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination (her third, after Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray). It’s a bit of a shock to see her in this kind of role, and a good shock. Janet Leigh also stars, as Eugenie Chaney, but it’s a bit of a non-role and she can’t make it memorable in any way.

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The movie’s a huge credit to Frankenheimer, who directs in great, confident high style, ensuring a suspenseful build-up to the tense climax at a Madison Square Garden presidential convention. This was the golden era when Frankenheimer could deliver a great movie like Birdman of Alcatraz and Seven Days in May.

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It was re-released in the late 1980s to renewed acclaim and remade in 2004 by Jonathan Demme.

The then 37-year-old Lansbury was only three years older than Harvey.

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Maybe forgetting From Here to Eternity, Sinatra called it; ‘Without doubt the finest picture I have ever made.’

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Lansbury won the 1946 best supporting actress Golden Globe for The Picture of Dorian Gray and four Golden Globes for her Jessica Fletcher role in TV’s Murder She Wrote. She received the lifetime achievement honorary Academy Award in 2013.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 239

Check out more reviews on http://derekwinnert.com

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