Saturday Movie Review – “The Manchurian Candidate (1962)”

The third “brainwashing” film in our Saturday review
run (after A Clockwork
and Conspiracy
) is reviewed today.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Frank Sinatra as Bennet Marco

Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw

Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney

Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin

Henry Silva as Chunjin

Screenplay by George Axelrod, based on a Richard
Condon novel

Directed by John Frankenheimer

Complete information is available from the

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Past movie reviews can be found here.


Soldiers kidnapped during the Korean War may not be
remembering things
exactly as they happened.

High Point

The drinking buddies who never got along.

Low Point

The sudden onset of love. Neither romance was really
effective, but
the Sinatra/Leigh romance was right over the top. All
she knew about
him was that he was so messed up he couldn’t light a
cigarette, and
yet she gave him her complete life story, phone number
and home
address, just before she broke up with her current

The Scores

The originality is pretty good, as this was
the first major
reprogramming film since The Cabinet
Dr. Caligari
. (Even that is a very loose
comparison.) If it
weren’t an adaptation, it would be nearly perfect in
this category. I
give it 5 out of 6.

The effect is singular, since the only one
they needed was
filming a television screen. It wasn’t done well, but
I seriously
doubt that’ll have any significant impact on how well
you enjoy the
film, as it was so minor. I give it 3 out of 6.

The story was well written, with quite a bit
of tension. The
romantic angles were the only portions that didn’t
work, but they
weren’t significant enough to be a major problem. I
give it 5 out of

The acting was well done across the board.
Everyone turns in
good performances, particularly Lansbury (who was
nominated for an
Oscar for this role) and Harvey. I give it 6 out of

The emotional response was strong. I felt a
lot of tension,
even though I’d already seen the recent remake (which
was also quite
good, though in a different way.) I knew the plan and
the identity of
the American agent, but it still held my attention as
it played out.
The conclusion was also quite effective, and would
have been even more
effective when it was released in 1962. I give it 5
out of 6.

The production was well done, with some very
effective use of
close-ups. The pacing is somewhat slow by today’s
standards, but
that’s not a serious problem. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a good suspence film, set
deeply in the 1960s
political climate. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, the original Manchurian Candidate
receives 34 out
of 42.

Next Week

Next week’s review will be of Mars Attacks!.
After that will follow reviews of The Matrix
and Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.

4 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – “The Manchurian Candidate (1962)””

  1. Huge playing card
    It’s a minor point, but I loved the huge playing card. I don’t know if it was intentional but it’s a hugely effective play on standard psychology.

    My parents used to discipline their dog with a fly swatter. It didn’t take long until simply holding up the fly swatter would have a definite reaction. One day I brought home a novelty fly swatter that was easily a foot across and the dog freaked.

    Raymond Chandler would have experienced the same shock. He had been trained with standard playing cards, so that costume would have had an immense impact.

    That’s why the final scenes were so intense. Frank Sinatra’s character tried to overcome the programming with a whole deck of queens, but his mother used a single large one. Which one would win? It looked certain….

    • Re: Huge playing card
      P.S., don’t forget the homage in an episode of "WKRP in Cincinatti".

      "Herb Tarlik is a wonderful coworker and devoted husband", or something like that. Except for the beautiful Bailey Quarters who couldn’t remember her line.

  2. Great Movie
    This really is a great thriller. I really wondered why so many people were so fond of Frank Sinatra. But his acting in this film was really top notch.

    I like this much better than the remake. I think the remake pulled some punches in its premise of the bad guys being corporate types instead of foreign governments. Corporate types already control the government, why would they need a single Manchurian candidate. The commie aspect of this movie has a lot more pshycological heft than the remake did, but of course the times changed.

    All in all this is a great thriller in both the style, execution, and plot.

    • Re: Great Movie
      I’m a heretic, but I actually preferred the remake. I liked the changes made to the characters for the remake, and of course the really creepy scribbles. :)

      I found the "Red Scare" taint of the original unappealing, but that’s due to the dating of it. That would have been far more effective had I seen the movie in its original political climate. As it is, I see foreign adversaries come and go with time; corporations are evil forever.

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