Not a box office hit when first released, in the nearly fifty years since, The Manchurian Candidate has taken its place among the greatest espionage films ever made. While The Manchurian Candidate seemed to foreshadow much of the political and social turmoil that would erupt across the American landscape during the 1960’s, it seems oddly prophetic, in regards to our current political environment.
Things begin on 1952, in the midst of the Korean War. Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) are leading a group of American soldiers to the battlefront when they are captured by the enemy and transported to an undisclosed location. When they return to the United States, Major Marco nominates Sergeant Shaw for the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his actions in combat, killing the enemy and saving the bulk of his platoon. At the same time, Shaw’s mother (Angela Lansbury) and stepfather, Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), move to use his status as a war hero to advance their political agenda to expose communists in the government. It’s important to note that mother Shaw makes the decisions, and Senator Iselin is little more than her puppet. Iselin becomes a leading candidate for his party’s presidential nomination. To say more might ruin the film for those who haven’t seen it.
Shaw appears to be the target of a fairly sophisticated Chinese scheme. Return him to America as a war hero, and allow him to live a seemingly normal life until he is triggered by a hypnotic suggestion and turned into an assassin completely brainwashed to take orders from his controller.
Unable to sleep because of a deeply disturbing, recurring dream, Marco decides to look up some of his former platoon buddies and see if they’re suffering the same fate. With a little help from a woman (Janet Leigh) he meets on a train, Marco slowly begins to discover that he was a part of a sinister plot. The two fall in love, and that relationship adds another level of intrigue to the proceedings. The way she quickly ditches her fiancé to be with him, and other assorted actions, make you question her motives.
For anyone who’s only every seen Angela as kindly Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, this film will be a revelation. Her character is the epitome of evil. The depths to which her character will sink to get her way are amazing. Sinatra has rarely been better as the troubled Marco, a proud man reduced to night sweats and uncertainties as he strives to understand what his subconscious is trying to tell him.
Shelved for years in a dispute between United Artists and Sinatra, who held a controlling interest in the film and thought the studio was using shady bookkeeping practices to keep it out of the profit column, it’s nice to see The Manchurian Candidate enjoying a second life.
Same transfer as the film’s Best Buy Exclusive edition: This 1080p edition of the film offers a 1.75:1 transfer that is very clean, and while it may not have the stark and striking contrast of the best black-and-white high-def transfers, it’s still very nice. Contrast is handled fairly well (a couple inconsistencies here and there remain), and while shadow delineation is good it’s never outstanding. Black levels are generally pretty solid, and are significantly improved from the movie’s previous DVD edition. Detail is nothing to write home about. Grain presence is excellent.
Also identical to the Best Buy Exclusive version: We get a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound mix on The Manchurian Candidate here. Overall, this is a dialogue-heavy movie, so there’s not a lot to the films surround presence. Dialogue is deep enough and only rarely sounds tinny. The same can’t be said for crowd scenes and gunshots, which can be a bit brittle. However, this is mostly a result of the film’s production value and not a defect of this mix. The movie’s score sounds nice and smooth.
French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
All the special features from the SD-DVD have been ported over to this Blu-ray, plus you also get a couple of new ones:
- Feature Commentary by John Frankenheimer is understated and intelligent, and is highly recommended.
- Interview with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer (SD; 7:59) is an interesting 1988 get together between the star, screenwriter and director.
- Queen of Diamonds (SD; 14:51) is an enjoyable interview with Angela Lansbury.
- A Little Solitaire (SD; 13:17) has Oscar winning director William Friedkin talking about the importance of the film and Frankenheimer.
- How to Get Shot (SD; 1:07) features Lansbury discussing how she prepared for the film’s denouement, only what she says she does she doesn’t do in the film, interestingly enough.
- Phone Call (SD; 00:26) is a brief but funny outtake from the Friedkin interview.
- Theatrical Trailer