Fox // 1962 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // June 2nd, 2011
Conspiracy theories, lost memories, a simple game of solitaire and Frank Sinatra all come together in one of the classic thrillers of the 1960s.
If you enjoy cold war thrillers, I can easily recommend The Manchurian Candidate as one of the most compelling in its genre. The story is simple enough: a platoon serving in the Korean War is captured by the enemy. But Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey, The Alamo) executes a daring escape only losing two men in the process. Upon returning to the States things take a dark twist. The men from the platoon all start having the same strange dream. Major Marco (Frank Sinatra, Tony Rome) is disturbed by the fact that in the dream he sees Shaw kill two American soldiers after being brainwashed. Marco begins to investigate Shaw and his controlling mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury, Bedknobs and Broomsticks), and even has a little romance with Rose Chaney (Janet Leigh, Touch of Evil). It all leads to a story of assassins, covert enemies and the Manchurian Candidate.
For me it's Frankenheimer's direction and style that makes this film work so well. The crisp black and white image matched with shifting angles, and handheld camera work (used sparingly and when it's most effective) keep the tension running and the paranoia thick. The movie clocks in at over two hours, but the style keeps even the talky scenes visually interesting. The only misstep is when Frankenheimer lays on the irony a bit too thick. How many times does Honest Abe have to show up during a scene where nearly everyone is lying to everyone else? But it's a small complaint, in the face of an otherwise well executed film.
I also really enjoyed the work by Harvey and Lansbury. Harvey plays an unlikable man who we end up fearing and fearing for. It's a tough part, but he handles it very well. But Lansbury is deliciously wicked as the controlling mother and devious spider weaving webs behind the scenes. If you come to the movie for any reason at all it should be to catch Lansbury's excellent performance.
And what about ol' blue eyes? Well, he's fine. He fits the part and plays it well, but he doesn't bring anything overly interesting to the role. Janet Leigh has a small role and gets to smooch Sinatra, but I thought she would figure into the plot a bit more.
The Manchurian Candidate is one of the films that Fox managed to obtain from the MGM archive. As such it looks like they just slapped the release from 2004 onto Blu-ray. The extras are identical and the presentation is sparse -- not even a proper menu is provided. The picture does look great, with the excellent cinematography looking sharp and the blacks nice and solid. But the issue is the audio. It sounds like they took the remastered 5.1 track from the 2004 disc and converted it to DTS-HD Master Audio. Unfortunately the result is frustrating. The score, certain sound effects and shouting are incredibly loud; while spoken and whispered dialogue is very quiet. You end up needing to keep your remote handy to adjust the volume. The original mono track that was offered on the 2004 disc is missing from this release. So unless you understand Spanish or French, the only English audio is your only option.
Sadly, if you have the standard def version, this may not be worth the upgrade because of the sound issue. If you don't yet own The Manchurian Candidate, then ponder how much you like using your remote, as that could affect your desire to purchase this excellent film. Standard DVD is likely the way to go here.
Fox is guilty for slapping this movie onto Blu-ray with little respect.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.77:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1962
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13