The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

:"For the novel by Richard Condon, see The Manchurian Candidate. For the 2004 film, see The Manchurian Candidate (2004 film)"Infobox Film
name = The Manchurian Candidate

director = John Frankenheimer
producer = George Axelrod
John Frankenheimer
writer = Novel:
Richard Condon
George Axelrod
starring = Frank Sinatra
Laurence Harvey
Janet Leigh
Angela Lansbury
Henry Silva
James Gregory
Douglas Henderson
Leslie Parrish
John McGiver
Khigh Dhiegh
music = David Amram
editing = Ferris Webster
distributor = United Artists
released = October 24, 1962
runtime = 126 min.
country = United States
language = English
amg_id = 1:31268
imdb_id = 0056218

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) is a Cold War political thriller film adapted by George Axelrod from the 1959 thriller novel, by Richard Condon. It was directed by John Frankenheimer and starred Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh. The central concept of the film is that the son of a prominent, right-wing political family has been brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for the International Communist Conspiracy. "The Manchurian Candidate" was nationally released on Wednesday, October 24, 1962, at the zenith of the Cuban Missile Crisis.


During the Korean War the Soviets kidnap an American infantry patrol and take them to Manchuria, in Communist China. There, the Communists (Russian, Chinese and North Korean) implant false memories in the soldiers' minds to cover the kidnapping, and to provide a subconscious trigger in the mind of one soldier, Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw. Brainwashed, the soldiers are covertly returned to their lines and, after reintegration into American society, unaware of what they went through.

As part of the process, Captain (later Major) Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and the rest of the platoon believe Shaw saved their lives in combat, for which he is awarded the Medal of Honor. Also, when asked to describe Raymond Shaw, each man automatically says: "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Privately, however, they know that Shaw is a cold, sad, unsociable loner. As Marco puts it: "It isn't as if Raymond's hard to like. He's impossible to like!"

After the war, Marco suffers a recurring nightmare: a hypnotized Sgt. Shaw kills two of his platoon before the assembled Soviet, Chinese and North Korean brass watching a practical demonstration of the Communist brainwashing technique. He wants to investigate, but receives no support from Army Intelligence, for whom he currently works, because he has no proof. This changes when he learns that another soldier from the platoon has also been suffering the same nightmare and identified the same assembled Communists.

Deciding that this is too much of a coincidence, Army Intelligence decides to support Marco's attempts to solve the mystery.

Raymond Shaw is an unwitting Communist sleeper agent whose actions are triggered by a Queen of Diamonds playing card. When he sees it, he will obey the next suggestion or order given to him. His intended role is that of a killer who, while carrying out his assignments, must also kill any witnesses and then forget his actions. The brainwasher, Dr. Yen, explains: " [Shaw's] "brain has not just been 'washed', but 'dry-cleaned'." To test the assassin's conditioning, Dr. Yen orders Shaw to kill his newspaper publisher employer.

Raymond's mother, Eleanor Iselin, is the driving force behind her husband Senator John Yerkes Iselin, a bombastic demagogue in the style of Joseph McCarthy who is dismissed by most people as a fool. He is also Raymond's stepfather. Raymond hates them both, especially his domineering mother. Sen. Iselin's political stature is established when (per his wife's orders) he interrupts a televised Congressional briefing of the Secretary of Defense and accuses him of knowing that some 207 Defense Department employees are Communist agents. This provokes a chaotic reaction among journalists and an enraged reaction from the Secretary.

Unknown to everyone, even Raymond, the Iselins "are" in fact Communist agents with a plan that should take them to the White House. Mrs. Iselin herself is the American operative for whom Raymond is the instrument with which to effect the operation's final step.

Raymond briefly finds happiness when he rekindles a youthful romance with Jocelyn Jordan, daughter of Senator Thomas Jordan, one of his stepfather's political rivals. Raymond originally courted her in order to get at his parents in a Romeo and Juliet-style romance, but in time the love turned genuine with Jocelyn and her father becoming the nearest he has ever had to having friends.

Raymond and Jocelyn are reeunited as part of a plan by Raymond's mother to get Sen. Jordan on her side. They then elope. Although pleased with the match, Sen. Jordan makes it clear to Raymond's mother that he will still block her husband's bid for the vice presidential nomination of their party. She in turn has Raymond assassinate Jordan, and in the process he also kills Jocelyn, who witnessed the event.

Raymond of course has no recollection of this, and is grief-stricken when he hears of Jocey's murder.

Mrs. Iselin then primes Raymond to assassinate their party's presidential candidate at the nomination convention. Afterwards, Sen. Iselin, the vice-presidential candidate, will, by default, become the presidential candidate and will give an inflammatory anti-Communist speech (written by Communist agents). The assassination will cause mass hysteria in the U.S. and propel the demagogue Iselin to the White House and justify his presidential emergency powers "... that would make martial law seem like anarchy." Thereby President Iselin, the Manchurian Candidate, will be a Communist puppet.

In a cynically moving scene, Raymond's mother admits to the activated Raymond that she has been a Communist agent for years. She needed an assassin to complete her plan and regrets that he is involved. After all, the world is full of killers who do not require brainwashing to do the job. The International Communist Conspiracy chose Sergeant Raymond Shaw as the assassin because it solidified their hold and control over his mother, and she intends to strike back at them, once in power.

In the course of the investigation, Marco has discovered that the Queen of Diamonds card is what is required to put Raymond in an hypnotic state and make him obey all orders without question. He uses a trick deck composed entirely of Queen of Diamonds cards in order to get the full story and to tell Raymond not to carry out the final phase of the Iselins' plan.

Although Marco's attempt appears to fail, Raymond keeps control over himself at the party convention and takes his revenge by killing his stepfather and mother. He then commits suicide while wearing his now truly earned Congressional Medal of Honor.

Critical response

Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, and Ferris Webster was nominated for Best Film Editing. In addition, Lansbury was named Best Supporting Actress by the National Board of Review and won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

The film was No. 67 on the AFI's "100 Years...100 Movies" when that list was compiled in 1998, but in 2007 a new version of that list was made which excluded "The Manchurian Candidate". It was also No. 17 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Thrills" lists. In 1994, "The Manchurian Candidate" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

It has received a rare 100 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes [] . Prominent American film critic Roger Ebert ranks "The Manchurian Candidate" as an exemplary "Great Film", declaring that it "is inventive and frisky, takes enormous chances with the audience, and plays not like a 'classic' but as a work as alive and smart as when it was first released." []

In April 2007, Angela Lansbury's character was selected by Newsweek as one of the ten greatest villains in cinema history.


For Raymond's mother, Sinatra had wanted Lucille Ball, but Frankenheimer, who had worked with Lansbury in a mother role in a previous film, "All Fall Down", suggested having her for the part and insisted that Sinatra watch the film before decisions were made.

Although Lansbury plays Raymond Shaw's mother, she was in fact only two years older than Harvey.

Janet Leigh plays Marco's love interest. A bizarre conversation on a train between her character and Marco has been interpreted by some — notably, film critic Roger Ebert — as implying that Leigh's character, Eugenie Rose Chaney, is working for the Communists to activate Marco's programming, much as the queen of diamonds activates Shaw's. It is a rather strange conversation between people who have only just met, and almost appears to be an exchange of passwords. Frankenheimer himself admits that he had no idea whether or not "Rosie" was supposed to be an agent of any sort; he merely lifted the train conversation straight from the Condon novel, in which there is no such implication. The 2004 film version has her as an FBI agent. Leigh had first read the original book on an airliner whilst she was on her way to appear at President Kennedy's inauguration. [Leigh, Janet Nickens, Christopher "Psycho: Behind the Scenes of a Classic Thriller" 1995 Harmony]

On the DVD audio commentary of the film, the director stated his belief that it contained the first-ever Karate fight in an American motion picture. This is true insasmuch as this was the first fight scene in an American film in which a "karateka" faced off against a "karateka", however the 1955 MGM film "Bad Day at Black Rock" featured a fight scene between a conventional fighter played by Ernest Borgnine and a karate expert played by Spencer Tracy.

During the fight scene between Frank Sinatra and Henry Silva, Sinatra broke his hand during a movement where he smashed through a table. This resulted in problems with his hand/fingers for several years and is said to be one of the reasons why he pulled out of a starring role in "Dirty Harry", having to undertake surgery to alleviate pains.

The famous interrogation sequence where Raymond and Marco confront each other in the hotel room opposite the convention are the rough cuts. When first filmed Sinatra was out of focus and when they tried to re-shoot the scene he was simply not as effective as he had been in the first take. Frustrated, Frankenheimer decided in the end to simply use the original out-of-focus takes. Critics praised him for showing Marco from Raymond's distorted point-of-view.

For the scene in the convention hall prior to the assassination, Frankenheimer was at a loss as to how Marco would pinpoint Raymond's sniper's nest. Eventually he decided on a method similar to Alfred Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent", made in 1940. Frankenheimer notes that what would be plagiarism in the 1960s would now be looked upon as an homage. Director John Frankenheimer's audio commentary, available on "The Manchurian Candidate" DVD]


The Karate fight in "Candidate" takes place in Raymond's apartment between Marco and Raymond's Korean manservant (Henry Silva). Some have suggested that the battles between Inspector Clouseau and his Oriental manservant Cato in The Pink Panther movies were inspired by this scene.

Nu metal band Slipknot make reference to the film in their song "Wait and Bleed". These lyrics were then adopted by the band Manchurian Candidate [] . References to the film were also mentioned in the self-titled song "Manchurian Candidate".

Angela Petrelli on the show "Heroes" was inspired by Mrs. Iselin, and is in fact named after Angela Lansbury, because creator Tim Kring could not remember the first name of the character (which is not specified in the film).

2004 film version

Jonathan Demme directed an up-to-date version of "The Manchurian Candidate" in 2004, starring Denzel Washington as Major Marco, Liev Schreiber as Congressman Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep as Senator Eleanor Shaw (her husband is not included). This contemporary adaptation made substantial changes to the source material by dropping the Cold War background for an anti-corporation story of private and business control of the U.S. government. The American soldiers are also shown being captured in Kuwait during the Gulf War between Iraqi and UN forces.

Raymond is the brainwashed Manchurian candidate and Marco the brainwashed assassin. The novel explicitly depicts incest between Raymond and his mother. The social conventions of American cinema in 1962 limited Frankenheimer's depiction to a salacious adult kiss between mother and son. Demme's depiction of mother-son incest is more explicit.

Demme's rewritten and reworked version of "The Manchurian Candidate" was less critically successful than the original.

The Kennedy Assassination

Hollywood rumor holds that Sinatra removed the film from distribution after the John F. Kennedy assassination. This is untrue, as can be confirmed from the Time Magazine archives section online. [cite news |first=Michael |last=Schlesinger |title=A 'Manchurian' myth |url=,1,7922219.story |publisher=Los Angeles Times |date=2008-01-27 |accessdate=2008-01-28 ] Certainly the film was rarely shown in the decades after 1963, but it did appear as part of the Thursday Night Movies series on CBS on September 16, 1965 and again later that season. It was also shown twice on NBC, once in the spring of 1974 and again in the summer of 1975. Sinatra did not acquire distribution rights to "The Manchurian Candidate" until the late 1970s. He was involved in a theatrical re-release of the film in 1988. The film has aired on a fairly regular basis on the Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics cable networks.

Michael Schlesinger, who was responsible for the film's 1988 reissue, maintains that the film's apparent withdrawal was unrelated to the Kennedy assassination. He notes that the film was "simply played out" by 1963, and that MGM did not re-release it theatrically until 1988 due to disagreements with Sinatra's attorneys over the terms of the film's licensing.

Similar rumors and treatment surround the film "Suddenly!" in which Sinatra himself starred as a Presidential assassin.

ee also

*Assassinations in fiction
*Hypnosis in fiction
*Mental illness in films
*Conspiracy thriller
*Project MKULTRA, CIA mind-control research program
*"The Bourne Identity"
*"Seven Days in May"
*"The Simultaneous Man"
*"The Deadly Assassin"
*Spy film


External links

*imdb title|id=0056218|title=The Manchurian Candidate
*amg title|id=1:31268|title=The Manchurian Candidate
*" [ The Manchurian Candidate] " at Metacritic
*tcmdb title|id=19293|title=The Manchurian Candidate
* [ Storyline and key dialogue excerpts]
* [ McCarthyism and the Movies]

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