Monday, November 5, 2012

A Tribute to Great Films (and the Election): The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Many people would probably assume I would post about V for Vendetta on the 5th of November. Not so, the election movie that I am going to pay tribute to this month is The Manchurian Candidate (1962).  The film follows two soldiers whose platoon are captured during the Korean Conflict.  While in combat the soldier are kidnapped by the North Koreans and hypnotized to be under their control.  One soldier, Raymond Shaw, is set with a much more dangerous task through hypnosis.
This is one of my favorite films of all time, and is a brilliant critique of the Cold War, and the evolution of the American political structure.  Senator John Iselin represents a Joe McCarthy like character who is climbing the political stratosphere, and proclaiming there are Communist at all levels in the government.  The character is offish, and represents the power of manipulation that also effects some of the main two characters Major Marco Bennett (Frank Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). 

Shaw is Iselin's step son, and after he comes back from war, there is obviously something different about him; he comes back touted as a major war hero, a memory planted in his mind, and the mind of those he was serving with in Korea.  His status as a hero catpaults him to national celebrity bringing recognition to his step father, just the way his mother Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Landsbury) planned.

The direction from John Frankenheimer, along with Geroge Axelrod's script are amazing.  Frankenheimer builds this mysterious tension that is unlike anything that had been done before. The combination of this script and direction takes you on a journey where you have to confront what is real and what is not.  Who can you trust, and who is pulling the strings within the government.  Politics is a dangerous/dirty game, and this film proves that there is always more than meets the eye.  This is a beautifully directed intense thriller with some great characters.

While I have never thought Sinatra to be much an actor (great singer) he stretches himself here more than he did in any film, even his Oscar winning role in From Here to Eternity.  The most stunning performance comes from Angela Landsbury whose dark turn as Mrs, Iselin is one of the best villains to grace the screen; she is cold calculating, and manipulative as she gets her son to do things in order to further her husbands political capitol.  Watch this film and you will have a hard time picturing her in Cabot Cove.

This film showed people for the first time a different representation of the American political system, filled with corruption.  The Manchurian Candidate focused on a system that allowed someone like John Iselin to be the Vice Presidential candidate because scarred people into thinking there was no one better.  Sounds like what Mitt Romney is doing with his "plan" for the economy.  The 2012 Presidential Election has had a winding path, and while I always encourage people to vote, I can't support their vote for this man who is just not going to take this country in the right direction.  Tomorrow is a scary day, and I will be on the edge of my seat.

Politics has become a different game, and this film shows the birth of the change, who controls what and how it effects the American system.  The film was re-made in 2006, and while there may be have been a few changes the message is timeless.

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