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THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory
Director: John Frakenheimer
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2016

Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.”

Film ****

If one is to ever think of a single motion picture to be made ahead of its time, John Frankenheimer’s masterful The Manchurian Candidate can easily be noted as such. Perhaps one of the first films to ever usher in an effect of extreme paranoia, the film version of the novel by Richard Condon has earned the status as of a true cinematic classic.

With a superbly crafted plot that lies somewhere between political thriller and political satire, the film may seem ever more resonant in the midst of today’s heated political climate. Looking back to its original release period, it’s kind of chilling once you come to realize an important footnote. This thriller involving a possible political assassination was released one month short of a year before President John F. Kennedy was fatally killed in Dallas, Texas.

The film’s story opens in Korea, 1952, where a U.S. military platoon has been kidnapped by a group of Communist soldiers. The details of the abduction are revealed in bit pieces throughout the movie. The story cuts to the aftermath of the Korean War, where two members of the platoon, Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), have apparently returned to a normal civilian life.

One fact, though, has Marco kind of bewildered. Somehow, Shaw has returned home a decorated hero, having received nothing more than the Medal of Honor for bravery. Having absolutely no knowledge of what Shaw did to receive such an award, Marco and the rest of the platoon members who served with him maintain that Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being they’ve ever known in their lives.
 

Marco, who’s now working as an investigator for the Pentagon, has another thing troubling him. Every night, the major has repeated nightmares about what may or may not have taken place during the time he and his fellow soldiers were kidnapped. What haunts him nightly is that of a heinous brainwashing experiment that possibly turned one of the soldiers into an assassin. Convinced that Shaw was indeed the primary test subject, Marco attempts to confront his former squad member to get specific details about why he was chosen and furthermore, if whether or not a future assassination plot is possible.

Shaw, with no knowledge of the actions he may be capable of, is anything but happy with his present life. The stepson of an arrogant senator (James Gregory), Shaw finds himself unable to shake the corrupt grasp of his controlling mother (Angela Lansbury). Never wanting to be linked to his stepfather, having been mistakenly labeled “The Senator’s Son” more than he would like to hear, Shaw has come to resent just about everything in his personal life. Even if he is to be something of a pawn in some sort of assassination plot, Shaw has pretty much played the role of a pawn all of his life.

The one possible cure of depression for Shaw lies in that of a beautiful woman named Jocelyn (Leslie Parrish). The two met during the summer prior to Shaw’s enlisting in the army. The two have now met up again and plan to get married. Marco, having conducted some private questioning to Shaw, doesn’t want to arrest him because he feels the romance may save him from any potential harm doing, since he is completely in love with her and has never displayed such happiness before in his life.

What lay ahead in the plot of The Manchurian Candidate is pure movie history. Though the details of the plot may not be so secretive now, I would still not even think of revealing any more. After all, if you have never seen this film before, and are reading this review, it would be a crime on my part for doing so.

The Manchurian Candidate is certainly one of cinema’s most treasured pieces. In the realm of the paranoia-driven thriller, you simply cannot top the strong efforts displayed by the late-great John Frankenheimer, who most certainly created his most crowning achievement to date with this film.

Video ****

This new Criterion Blu-ray, featuring a 4K restoration, is the absolute best format the film has been presented in to date! This is a film that’s endured a long road in terms of getting a perfected presentation (its first DVD release in 1998 was given an unfortunate non-anamorphic look). Now, the image detail in the black and white picture is nothing short of stunning, as only Criterion can deliver. Blacks are absolutely rich in every single detail, and the overall clarity is mind blowing in ways that didn’t exist before. Criterion has knocked one out of the ball park, once again!

Audio ***

A new uncompressed mono mix has been supplied here, and it sounds just as dynamic as any of the previous 5.1 presentations. Dialogue is terrifically clear and the music score by David Anram gets an exceptional delivery. Needless to say, the overall suspense factor is increased as a result of this fine piece of audio!

Features ****

Criterion ushers in their unbeatable expertise in supplements for this release. For starters, we have a commentary from 1997 featuring director John Frankenheimer, as well as a brand new interview with actor Angela Lansbury, and a new piece featuring filmmaker Errol Morris discussing his appreciation for the film. There’s also a conversation between Frankenheimer, screenwriter George Axelrod, and Frank Sinatra from 1987, and a new interview with historian Susan Carruthers about the Cold War brainwashing scare. Rounding out everything is a trailer and an insert featuring an essay by film critic Howard Hampton.

Summary:

The Manchurian Candidate, one of the greatest American thrillers of all time, gets the grand Criterion treatment it deserves, and as a result is now more deserving of being discovered, or re-discovered now more than ever!

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