Tuesday, March 2, 2010
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962 version) with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury
This film works on so many different levels that it's hard to hit them all, but I'll try. First off, it's a "cold war" film, so that grabs me right away. The real life intrique was never very far off from the plots of some of these films. "Manchurian Candidate", like "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," captures that realism.
In another vein, if you think that Frank Sinatra couldn't act, get ready to eat those words. This is one of his finest performances, no singing, no casino robberies, no Rat Pack. This may be his best dramatic screen performance since "The Man With the Golden Arm."
The story centers around a guy named Raymond, the son of a wealthy political family with high ambitions. Raymonds service in Korea is a part of their image. During the war he receives the Medal of Honor for leading his patrol back from behind enemy lines.
Things are not what they seem however, and so the film is filled with twists and turns that eventually lead to the one inescapable ending. Tremendous performances by Laurence Harvey as Raymond and Angela Lansbury as his self serving mother, along with flawless acting by Frank Sinatra, have long made this a favorite of mine. And wait- there is more to this story....
I saw the film at the Century Avalon on Kings Highway in Brooklyn when I was 8 years old. I didn't understand it. By the 1980's, when VCR had emerged, I was looking for old films to watch and couldn't find it anywhere! It was an Oscar Nominated film directed by John Frankenheimer, yet it was nowhere to be found. A mystery. That is, until one particular night in the car listening to AM radio.
Larry King, a freind of Frank Sinatra's, was on the air and asked him about the film, stating that it was one of his best and he couldn't find a copy. Genuinely flustered and without an answer, Mr. Sinatra promised to look into it.
About 2 weeks later he contacted Larry King by phone and explained that the film was yanked from theaters shortly before the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. It was bought by his business people and was in his vault at some studio. He was going to pull it, restore it and re-release it. And, lucky for us, he did.
Now, look at the film from this perspective. The mind control program revealed in this film, along with the military's use of LSD and other drugs to create "agents" is now widely known and accepted to be true. Put this together with Sinatra's "Rat Pack" and their connections to Sam Giancanna, long suspected to be the architect of the shooting in Dallas, and you have one hell of a story. Remember that these 3 guys shared the same women(Judith Campbell in particular) as well as other financial and political pursuits.
Still not convinced? Try this one. Frank Sinatra was an ardent admirer of JFK. When his plans to host the President in Palm Springs in 1962 fell through, the mob was ready to "whack" him for it. That is actually on tape. So, about 6 months before the events in Dallas, the film is locked away. When the assassination happened Sinatra was beside himself, to the point of being a risk. Now remember that within 2 weeks of the assassination, his son, Frank, Jr. was kidnapped by 2 low level guys out of Florida. Coincidence? I'm not so sure.
Watch this film with an open mind and leave any pre-conceived notions at the door.(Except for Angela Lansbury, who looks exactly the same now as she did then.)
A very tightly woven tale of political intrique, this film will not fail to make you think. And that alone makes it a pleasure to watch.