The plot of 1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate” revolved around a communist plan to assassinate the American President. When, a year later, after that event actually occurred, the film was pulled from distribution for almost 25 years. Rumors abounded that it had been pulled because Lee Harvey Oswald’s background and motives had been triggered by the movie. In actuality, Frank Sinatra, who had bought the rights to the movie, kept it out of circulation for all that time, not because of his grief over Kennedy’s death, but because he didn’t think it would make any money.
Many plot elements of this political satire/thriller masterpiece had real life parallels: a right wing powerful Senator on a hunt for American communist party members, using a terrorist act (an assassination) to create hysteria and chaos, the torture of prisoners of war. It was no wonder that the public became convinced that the brainwashing of a captured soldier to commit a murder two years later was similarly plausible. So much so that the term, Manchurian candidate, became part of everyday language as shorthand for a brainwashed individual who can be ordered to act when his controllers push the psychological trigger button.
Regardless of its connections to any real occurrences, the twisting plot of “Candidate” that moves seamlessly from the real to the surreal makes for a dizzying, exciting cinematic ride. We, the audience, sit helpless as military hero and brainwashed assassin designee, Raymond Shaw, (Lawrence Harvey) cowers before his controlling mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) while his weak stepfather, Senator Iselin, hunts for communists. Meanwhile, desperate to uncover the suspected brainwashing, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) leads the Army investigation. Real time action threaded with flashbacks and dream sequences make for a film that, at the time, Paulene Kael called “the most sophisticated political satire ever made in Hollywood.”
Not only will we have the video introduction by Dr. Jon Cavallero, Bates Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies, Jon will be here in person for a post-viewing Q&A for the Saturday showing of this riveting movie masterpiece. Mark your calendars to join us on Thursday, March 9 or Saturday, March 11 at 2 p.m. for “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Our final classic film of this season will be “The Graduate” on April 13 and 15.
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