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"The Manchrian Candidate" - {Blu-ray} - (1962)
Wayne Klein
Studio: MGM/Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

Audio commentary by Director John Frankenheimer; two featurettes with each featuring Director William Friedkin and actress Angela Lansbury Rated: NR


The Manchurian Candidate along with Seven Days in May, Seconds , The French Connection II and Black Sunday that the late director John Frankenheimer was a master of paranoid politically thrillers. The Manchurian Candidate" was a product of its era that has managed to transcend the era that produced it. This political satire and thriller captures the sense of paranoia that existed in America during the 50's and early 60's. Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Angela Lansbury and James Gregory all give top notch performances in John Frankenheimer's classic film of Richard Condon's novel. Unfortunately, Frank Sinatra a friend of President John F. Kennedy felt the film should be withdrawn in the wake of Kennedy's assassination because of the subject matter of the film but the truth is that the film had nothing to do with Kennedy's assassination and even in the wake of his killing the film would still have played well on TV and in theaters. It's tragic because one of Frankenheimer's masterpieces was missing-in-action for a very long time. ***

What's amazing about The Manchurian Candidate is how deftly Frankenheimer (working from a script by George Axelrod--and an uncredited Frankenheimer--and based on the novel by Richard Conden) alternates politicial satire with paranoid suspense thriller without messing up the tone of either. The Manchurian Candidate would prefigure later broader films such as Winter Kills and Jonathan Demme's more conventional remake (the fact that it was more conventional and flatter in tone was a surprise given that Demme had demonstrated his ability to handle films with more complex tones as this with Something Wild) ***

A platoon of soliders are betrayed by their military guide and captured by the North Koreans during the Korean War. Their subjected to mind control techniques to make one of them the perfect assassin. When they return home, the platoon's captain (Sinatra)begins having nightmares where his Sgt. Shaw (Harvey)kills two of his men in cold blood. In these dreams they are surrounded by the enemy in a lecture hall being conditioned for the mind control experiments. It's clear that the Sgt. has been conditioned to become a "sleeper" agent--impossible to detect because he doesn't know that he's now an agent for a foreign power. Additionally, Shaw's mother (Lansbury)uses the concerns over communists in the US government to launch her husband's (Gregory)bit to be put on the ticket for the vice-presidency. ---

Image & Sound:

Although this is not a brand spanking new high def transfer (it uses the high def transfer prepared for the 2004 DVD) the film looks quite nice with better depth, detail and sharper image quality (with the exception of one sequence which is extremely soft) when compared to the 2004 DVD. Is it worth upgrading to Blu-ray for the casual fan? That would be totally up to the fan of the film and how often they watch this classic but it does look extremely good here. ***

Audio sounds quite nice with the original mono mix presented uncompressed. ---

Special Features:

The Blu-ray edition comes with the two featurettes carried over from the previous edition. The first features director William Freidkin ("The French Connection", "The Exorcist", "To Live and Die in L.A.")in an appreciation of Frankenheimer's career. Freidkin discusses how "The Manchurian Candidate" broke with the conventions of political thrillers of the time. ***

The second featurette has a 15 minute interview with Angela Lansbury about working on the film. Interestingly, Lansbury misremembers a key scene from the film that she comments on. It calls to mind the scenes in the film that questions our interpretation of events, memory and how it can be manipulated. ---

The commentary track by director Frankenheimer's is always interesting but there are long stretches of silence. Do you need to upgrade to this new edition? Only if you didn't purchase the previous one. The previous edition had both the widescreen and full screen versions of the film and all the features here except the two previously mentioned featurettes.

Final Words:

The Manchurian Candidate remains a potent, powerful combination of political satire and paranoid thriller. The Blu-ray looks extremely good even though it appears to be drawn from an older high def master and luckily Fox has (hopefully) learned its lesson and elected to carry over the special features from the DVD to the Blu-ray (they still need to redo Escape To New York and a number of other films they botched when they first issued them on Blu-ray including the recent reissue of The Terminator and Robocop). Recommended.


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