The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate Information

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 American Cold War suspense thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer from a screenplay by George Axelrod based on Richard Condon's 1959 novel. It stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Janet Leigh and features Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, and James Gregory.

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 an international Communist conspiracy. The Manchurian Candidate was nationally released on Wednesday, October 24, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film was well received and gained nominations for two Academy Awards.


During the Korean War, the Soviets capture an American platoon and take them to Manchuria in Communist China. Some days later, the soldiers (except two supposedly killed in combat) return to US lines and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is credited with saving their lives in combat. Upon the recommendation of the platoon's commander, Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Raymond is awarded the Medal of Honor for his apparent heroism. When asked to describe him, Marco and the other soldiers automatically respond, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Deep down, however, they know that Shaw is a cold, sad, unsympathetic loner.

Marco, who has since been promoted to Major, suffers from a recurring nightmare in which a hypnotized Shaw blithely and brutally murders the two missing soldiers before the assembled military brass of Communist nations, during a practical demonstration of a revolutionary brainwashing technique. Marco wants to investigate, but receives no support from Army Intelligence as he has no solid evidence to back his remarkable claims. However, Marco learns that another soldier from the platoon, Allen Melvin (James Edwards), has had the same nightmare. When Melvin and Marco separately identify some of the men in the dream as leading figures in communist governments, Army Intelligence agrees to help Marco investigate.

Meanwhile, Shaw's mother, Mrs. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), drives the political career of her husband and Shaw's stepfather, Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), a McCarthy-like demagogue who is widely dismissed as a fool. Senator Iselin finds a newfound political profile when he claims that varying numbers of Communists work within the Defense Department. However, unknown to Raymond, Mrs. Iselin herself is actually a Communist agent with a plan intended to secure the presidency under Communist influence.

Mrs. Iselin is the American "operator" responsible for controlling Raymond, who was conditioned in Manchuria to be an unwitting assassin whose actions are triggered by a Queen of Diamonds playing card. When he sees it, he will blindly obey the next suggestion or order given to him. When given instructions to kill selected targets, he must also kill any witnesses and never remember his actions, making him the perfect assassin. It is revealed that Shaw's heroism was a false memory implanted in the platoon by the Communists in Manchuria, and that they were covertly returned to the American lines when their conditioning was completed; the actions for which Shaw was awarded his Medal of Honor never took place. Shaw's conditioning is reinforced during periodic visits to a New York nursing home (which is actually run by Soviet agents) and a North Korean agent supervises him under the pretext of acting as his cook and houseboy. When Marco visits Shaw's apartment he becomes suspicious of the Korean and they engage in a fight using karate techniques.

Raymond briefly finds happiness when he rekindles a youthful romance with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), the daughter of Senator Thomas Jordan (John McGiver), one of his stepfather's political rivals, whom he originally met when he was bitten by a snake near their family mansions on Long Island. Mrs. Iselin broke up the relationship for political reasons, but she now facilitates the couple's reunion as part of her scheme to garner the support of Senator Jordan for her husband's own sudden bid for Vice President.

Jocelyn, wearing a Queen of Diamonds costume outfit, inadvertently hypnotizes Raymond at a costume party thrown by the Iselins, and the couple elopes. Although pleased with the match, Senator Jordan makes it clear to Mrs. Iselin that he will move for her husband's impeachment if he makes any attempt to seek the vice-presidential nomination. Mrs. Iselin triggers Raymond's conditioning and sends him to assassinate Jordan. Raymond carries out his orders and calmly shoots Jocelyn through the forehead when she happens upon the scene. Raymond has no knowledge of his actions and is genuinely grief-stricken when he learns of the murders.

Marco discovers the role of the Queen of Diamonds card in hypnotizing Raymond into committing these atrocities. Marco meets Raymond and, using a deck composed entirely of such cards, he gets the full story. He then verbally drills into Raymond the suggestion or affirmation that the Queen of Diamonds no longer has any power over him. Mrs. Iselin primes her son to assassinate their party's presidential candidate at the nomination convention so that Senator Iselin, as the vice-presidential candidate, will become the presidential candidate by default. This will cause mass hysteria that will get Iselin, "the Manchurian candidate", elected and further justify invocation of emergency powers that, in Mrs. Iselin's words, "will make martial law seem like anarchy". Mrs. Iselin tells Raymond that she did not know that he was to be selected by the Communists, who apparently chose him to be the assassin because they believed it would solidify their control over her. She vows that once in power she will "grind them into the dirt" in revenge.

With Marco's attempt to liberate Raymond from his conditioning appearing to have failed, Raymond enters the convention hall disguised as a priest and takes position to carry out the assassination. Marco and his supervisor, Colonel Milt (Douglas Henderson), arrive at the convention to stop him. As the Presidential nominee (Robert Riordan) makes his speech, Raymond, instead of assassinating him, takes his revenge and saves the country by shooting his mother and stepfather through the head with a sniper rifle. He then commits suicide in front of Marco while wearing his Medal of Honor. (Iselin is shown to be aware of the planned assassination, though it is never made clear whether he is also aware that his wife is a communist agent; given his blatant stupidity he may believe that she is simply plotting to advance his political career for his own sake.)

After Raymond's suicide, Marco, in the film's final scene, voices a putative Medal of Honor citation for Raymond's real heroism: "Made to commit acts too unspeakable to be cited here, by an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul, he freed himself at last, and in the end, heroically and unhesitatingly, he gave his life to save his country"?Raymond Shaw."


  • Frank Sinatra as Maj. Bennett Marco
  • Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw
  • Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin
  • Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney
  • James Gregory as Sen. John Yerkes Iselin
  • Henry Silva as Chunjin
  • Leslie Parrish as Jocelyn Jordan
  • John McGiver as Sen. Thomas Jordan
  • Khigh Dheigh as Dr. Yen Lo
  • James Edwards as Cpl. Allen Melvin
  • Douglas Henderson as Col. Milt
  • Albert Paulsen as Zilkov
  • Barry Kelley as Secretary of Defense
  • Lloyd Corrigan as Holborn Gaines
  • Robert Riordan as Benjamin K. Arthur


For the role of Mrs. Iselin, Sinatra had considered Lucille Ball, but Frankenheimer, who had worked with Lansbury in All Fall Down, suggested her for the part and insisted that Sinatra watch the film before making any decisions. (Although Lansbury played Raymond Shaw's mother, she was in fact only three years older than actor Laurence Harvey.)

An early scene where Raymond, recently decorated with the Medal of Honor, argues with his parents was filmed in Sinatra's own private plane.

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 brainwashing, much as the Queen of Diamonds activates Shaw's. It is a jarringly strange conversation between people who have only just met, and almost appears to be an exchange of passwords. Frankenheimer himself maintained 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 rest of the film does not elaborate on Rosie's part and latter scenes suggest that she is simply a romantic foil for Marco.

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 interrogation sequence where Raymond and Marco confront each other in the hotel room opposite the convention is from a rough cut. 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 (a common factor in Sinatra's film performances). 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.

In the novel, Mrs. Iselin uses her son's brainwashing to have sex with him before the climax. Concerned that censors would not allow even a reference to such a taboo subject in a mainstream motion picture of the time, the filmmakers instead opted for Mrs. Iselin to simply kiss Raymond on the lips to imply her incestuous attraction to him.

For the scene in the convention hall prior to the assassination, Frankenheimer was at a loss as to how Marco would pinpoint Raymond Shaw's sniper's nest. Eventually he decided on a method similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). Frankenheimer noted that what would be plagiarism in the 1960s would now be looked upon as an homage.

Frankenheimer also acknowledged the climax's connection with Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 and 1956) by naming the Presidential candidate "Benjamin Arthur". Arthur Benjamin was the composer of the Storm Clouds Cantata used in both versions of Hitchcock's film.


According to rumor, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Michael Schlesinger, who was responsible for the film's 1988 reissue by MGM/UA, denies the rumor. According to him, the film's apparent withdrawal was not due to the assassination, but due to lack of public interest by 1963. Sinatra's representatives acquired rights to the film in 1972 after the initial contract with United Artists expired, but he later stated that he was unaware of the transaction at the time. After a successful showing at the New York Film Festival in 1987 renewed public interest in the film, the studio reacquired the rights and it became again available for theater and video releases.


Critical response

It has a 98% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, based on 49 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert ranked 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".

Awards and honors

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".

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

American Film Institute recognition

  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies #67
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains:
    • Mrs. Iselin, villain #21
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills #17

Home media

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 inasmuch as this was the first fight scene in an American film in which a karateka–a studied practitioner–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.

See also

  • Assassinations in fiction
  • Conspiracy thriller
  • Hypnosis in fiction
  • Spy film

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "The_Manchurian_Candidate_%281962_film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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