The Manchurian Candidate - Blu-ray Review

'A complex, tense and at times surreal thriller that grabs the audience's attention immediately and refuses to let go until its final frames'.

Originally released at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Manchurian Candidate oozes the paranoia and conspiracy fears of the Cold War - of which it is in many ways a product - and is all the better for it. From the moment he throws you without warning into the film's Korean-War-set cold opening, director John Frankenheimer does everything in his power to craft a complex, tense and at times surreal thriller that grabs the audience's attention immediately and refuses to let go until its final frames.

Adapted from Richard Condon's novel, George Axelrod's screenplay tells a story that would surely at times feel too ludicrous to ring true in the hands of a lesser director; and yet Frankenheimer succeeds comprehensively in making The Manchurian Candidate's story both gripping and believable. Each twist and revelation in the story of brainwashed Medal of Honour recipient Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is expertly revealed, Frankenheimer knowing exactly how to generate maximum mystery and suspense from Axelrod's remarkable script. Even the rare moments within the plot that could be considered a little too coincidental, even for the world Frankenheimer presents, are forgivable thanks to the film as a whole being so stylishly executed and undeniably compelling.

In crafting The Manchurian Candidate's visuals, cinematographer Lionel Lindon utilises a striking range of techniques, artistically playing with foreground and background, light and shade and extraordinary use of facial close-ups throughout. Drawn-out fades allow scenes to bleed into each other at times with fascinating results. The film's finest moments arguably come from its most surreal sequences depicting the shared nightmares of two of the characters early on. With actors and settings shifting at a dizzying rate coupled with striking and unsettling camera angles, Frankenheimer's impeccable direction and Lindon's arresting visuals come together to create one of the most striking and chilling cinematic depictions of a dream ever made.

Frankenheimer's cast matches the high craft of his film, the director drawing comprehensively strong performances from all involved. Frank Sinatra as haunted Korean War veteran Major Bennett Marco gets better and better as the story unfolds and Bennett's mind comes closer and closer to unravelling, also managing to deliver a (perhaps unexpectedly) solid martial-arts-infused fight sequence into the bargain. Angela Lansbury as Raymond's mother Eleanor delivers a masterclass in manipulation of both her son and her husband, McCarthy-alike John Iselin (James Gregory), and the audience, keeping you guessing as to her true motivations for as long as the story allows.

Harvey as Raymond is the standout here, however, making the character by turns disagreeably aloof, unsettlingly robotic, and yet unquestionably sympathetic to the very end. Just as Raymond's story of mental and emotional exploitation resonates powerfully today whilst also being intrinsically linked to its historical context, The Manchurian Candidate transcends its mid-20th Century roots into timelessness thanks to every element within it coming together to synthesise a comprehensively outstanding cinematic experience.




The Manchurian Candidate is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 23rd February 2015.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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