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review added: 7/22/04



The Manchurian Candidate
Special Edition - 1962 (2004) - MGM

review by Dw Dunphy of MusicTAP (special to The Digital Bits)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
The Manchurian Candidate: Special Edition

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C

Specs and Features

Approx. 127 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.75:1), 16x9 enhanced, B&W, keepcase packaging, audio commentary by John Frankenheimer, video interview (with Frank Sinatra, John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod),
featurette (with Angela Lansbury), A Little Solitaire featurette (with William Friedkin), original theatrical trailer, photo gallery, 8-page booklet with liner notes, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access: 36 chapters, languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 mono) and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned


Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw is a war hero, a recipient of the Medal of Honor. Raymond Shaw is an officious, callous, unlovable jerk of a human being. "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Raymond Shaw is the human equivalent of a guided ballistic missile, aimed, armed and ready to explode.

Unlike many of Hollywood's movies that make the claim that you must see all of a film to get it, The Manchurian Candidate (read - the original Manchurian Candidate... more on that later) swears by the motto. If you don't see the groundwork laid down, how far-from-beloved Staff Sergeant Shaw (Laurence Harvey) commands his troops straight into an ambush in the thick of the Korean Conflict, you absolutely won't be confused by how his troops could love him so, and how his right-hand man, Maj. Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) could be so loyal to someone he also clearly despises. In fact, the central theme of this movie is confusion, the twists and turns of a mind game in play. Miss it, and you miss the whole point of the piece.

Now the troops are home, except for two, trying to get on with their lives but haunted by nightmares of a surreal garden convention in New Jersey. Did they really attend this conference on hydrangeas? Did Shaw actually murder those two lost soldiers, under the command of their captors? It is up to Major Marco to put the pieces together to try to stop the nightmares; little realizing what kind of nightmare lies in wait should he fail.

Meanwhile, Shaw's mother (in a masterful performance by Angela Lansbury who, in reality, was only a couple years older than the man playing her son) and her second husband, Red-baiting Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory), are using her son's sudden notoriety as campaign leverage. We quickly learn that Iselin is a rube and that Mother is the brain of the operation, ready to do anything to win. It's not hard to see how Shaw got so difficult if you factor in the lineage.

Often considered the best of the political thriller genre, The Manchurian Candidate while set during and post-Korea remains potent, the shocks still shock and the acting still holds up. You truly can't stand Harvey's portrayal of Shaw from the start but slowly come to empathize with him. Frank Sinatra eschews his Rat Pack glibness and gives a startlingly nuanced performance. Director John Frankenheimer took everything he learned from live television and adapted it to the big screen, giving many of the scenes the vividness and immediacy of a documentary while, at the same time, pulling out surrealistic stops that must have blown many a mind during the 1962 premiere. Both he and screenwriter George Axelrod have sworn by the original novel written by Richard Condon (who also wrote the storied Prizzi's Honor) but many book-to-screen adaptations go horribly wrong in translation. The credit goes to all for getting it right the first time.

This reissue from MGM Home Entertainment is, at heart, just like their first release. The commentary from Frankenheimer is the same, as is the EPK interview with him, Sinatra and Axelrod, shot for the 1988 theatrical re-release. The additions to the special features are a short piece with Angela Lansbury, recounting how she became one of the most hated women in American cinema, and with William Friedkin, in tribute to Frankenheimer and his enormous influence on director Friedkin's career, the original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. Most of this doesn't add much to the package, but are welcomed nonetheless.

The video quality on this new anamorphic widescreen release is a little sharper and crisper than the original MGM version, with the black level not as inconsistent. That said, the changes are not so startling that those with the original disc should rush right out and upgrade. The audio portion, featuring a new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix, is also not a selling point. While interesting to have, the movie just doesn't have a lot to show off in the sound-field arena and, besides, movies of this era were not recorded with the audiophile in mind. Sound effects that work fine in mono have their tinniness and lack of liveliness betrayed in the souped-up remixes.

So in the end, if you have the original, you'll want the new version mainly for the 16x9 enhancement. Otherwise, there's no great rush to buy up. If you don't have the original release, you should definitely buy this, not only to experience a benchmark in moviemaking, but also to send a message to Hollywood. If you have a problem with critical ranting, you might want to stop reading now...

Still here?

It will come as no surprise that there is a big budget remake of The Manchurian Candidate primed to open in a week or so. Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep (in the Sinatra and Lansbury roles, respectively), it has certainly star-power. However, it is set in the present, not during the Korean War, so how that could tie in the Manchurian Candidate, I have no idea. Also, the thought of the actors, all fine performers in their own right, knocking the originals from the spotlight irks me to no end. Liev Schreiber has done good work before, but it almost seems unfair that Laurence Harvey's single most honored performance as Raymond Shaw should be duct-taped over like this.

And it all seems so unnecessary. There was nothing wrong with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho before Gus Van Sant decided to have a crack at it. There is nothing wrong with Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, but the threat of a remake is tossed around on an almost seasonal basis. As I've already said, The Manchurian Candidate is honestly as startling and clever as it ever was. All that could be done with it now would be to make is in color and much more explicit. These are not valid reasons to redo it. Experience the original and you'll realize why the fans of this film are, quite honestly, confused about why anyone would bother attempting a remake.

Unless, this too is a colossal mind game...

Dw Dunphy
dwdunphy@musictap.net


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