All the allegations of plagiarism against Richard Condon aside, I can’t shake the feeling that he was having a laugh at us all. The point of The Manchurian Candidate seems to be how readily we will believe a brainwashing plot by the communists, but not one perpetrated by our own mass media society.
We are willing to believe white is black so long as someone tells us long enough, and to betray even our closest friends if only a senator McCarthy/Iselin, and the media, tell us to do it.
Today, do we not still allow economic vandals a free hand to collapse the world economy again, and do we not allow similar people to claim that climate change is not affected by industrial activity, or that we need to vote against our own liberties and interests? To buy shit we don’t really need or want? To conform and react as directed by mass media ‘opinion’?
These were all themes coming to the fore in the later 1950s, when Condon might have written his book. Perhaps these themes were also what led to the plagiarism charges laid against him at the time. Would it not be a laugh on us all if he simply put together passages from other lauded works in a pastiche to make his own?
All the same, Frank Sinatra actually gives some kind of performance in the film, and the whole thing hangs together as a thriller with some solid performances by Harvey, Lansbury and especially James Gregory as the super repulsive Senator Iselin, surely modeled on McCarthy. I loved the little observations of his preening, modelling his pout on Abraham Lincoln, and noticeably styling his stentorian accusations on Joseph McCarthy. Great stuff.
The encounter scenes between Sinatra and Leigh, and the fight sequence between Sinatra and Silva still count as among the most magnetic in film history of the period.
I gather Sinatra had rather a lot more influence on how this film was put together than an actor ought to, but it doesn’t look like he did too much harm here.
Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Condon. Cinematography by Lionel Lindon. Produced by John Frankenheimer, George Axelrod. Music by David Amram.
Featuring Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco, Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw, Angela Lansbury as Eleanor Iselin, Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney, Henry Silva as Chunjin, James Gregory as Senator John Iselin, Leslie Parrish as Jocelyn Jordan, John McGiver as Senator Thomas Jordan, Khigh Dheigh as Dr Yen Lo.