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The Manchurian Candidate (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 15, 2011 by  



“The Manchurian Candidate” is a John Frankenheimer masterpiece that gets its well-deserved release on Blu-ray, while no special features are new to this release, the picture and audio quality is awesome and fans of the film will definitely want to upgrade from their DVD to this Blu-ray release!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1961 Seven Arts Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Manchurian Candidate

FILM RELEASE DATE: 1962

DURATION: 126 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:75:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French

RATED: PG-13

COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc./Twentieth Century Fox

RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2011

Directed by John Frankenheimer

Based on the novel by Richard Condon

Screenplay by George Axelrod

Produced by George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer

Executive Producer: Howard W. Koch

Music by David Amram

Cinematography by Lionel Lindon

Edited by Ferris Webster

Production Design by Richard Sylbert

Set Decoration by George R. Nelson

Costume Design by Moss Mabry

Starring:

Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco

Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw

Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney

Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin

Henry Silva as Chunjin

James Gregory as Senator John Yerkes Iselin

Leslie Parrish as Jocelyn Jordan

John McGiver as Senator Thomas Jordan

Khigh Dhiegh as Dr. Yen Lo

James Edward Corporal Allen Melvin

Douglas Henderson as Colonel Milt

Albert Paulsen as Zilkov

A former Korean War POW is brainwashed by Communists into becoming a political assassin. But another former prisoner may know how to save him.

“The Manchurian Candidate”, a political thriller written by Richard Condon and released in 1959 was a popular novel in America and sure enough, the novel would receive its film adaptation courtesy of director John Frankenheimer (“Ronin”, “Reindeer Games”, “French Connection II”) and writer George Axelrod (“The Seven Year Itch”, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!”).

For singer/actor Frank Sinatra (“Ocean’s Eleven”, “Pal Joey”, “High Society”), he had been looking for a role that was not musically-driven but a film that would showcase him in a more demanding role and Sinatra would be cast for the lead and would star in the film alongside Laurence Harvey (“Darling”, “The Alamo”, “Room at the Top”), Janet Leigh (“Psycho”, “Touch of Evil”) and Angela Lansbury (“Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, “Murder She Wrote”, “All Fall Down”).

The film would achieve critical success and would be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and would be listed in 1998 at #67 for the American Film Institutes’ “100 Years…100 Movies” listing. And Angela Lansbury would receive the distinction 2007 by Newsweek as one of the ten greatest villains in cinema history.

“The Manchurian Candidate” begins with a group of American soldiers who are captured in the Korean War by the Soviets.  The soldiers were then taken to Manchuria, China where they would be brainwashed and be used by enemy countries to infiltrate the military and politics.

While many of the soldiers including Maj. Bennett Marco (played by Frank Sinatra) were brainwashed, the focus would be on Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (played by Laurence Harvey) because of his mother and father’s ties to national politics.   Shaw is used as guinea pig by the enemies as an example of how he can easily kill people by command and it is planned that when these soldiers return back to America, Shaw would be credited for saving their lives in combat and he would receive a medal of honor by the platoon’s commander, Marco.

When each of the soldiers are asked to describe Shaw, each would say “he is the kindest, braves, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life”.

But all of a sudden Bennett Marco and another soldier Allen Melvin (played by James Edwards) would each have nightmares of what took place that day when it was revealed that Shaw was programmed.  And both men try to piece together why they would have these same nightmares and they realized that who they saw in the room while hynotized/brainwash were leading figures from communist government and Army Intelligence enlist Marco to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, the enemies continue their plan for Shaw to be used for murder and his mother Mrs. Eleanor Iselin (played by Angela Lansbury) uses her son and his status as a hero to drive the political career of her husband, Senator John Yerkes Iselin (played by James Gregory) who is using his anti-communism platform to go after those who work for the U.S. Defense Department who are deemed as communist.

Before more people die, will Bennet Marco be able to solve these murders and figure out who is controlling Raymond Shaw?

VIDEO:

“The Manchurian Candidate” is presented in 1080p High Definition (Widescreen 1:75:1).  I was pretty impressed with the Blu-ray release as my older DVD version did not have contrast levels this good, especially with the black levels.  Blacks are nice and deep for this Blu-ray release which was nice.

It’s definitely a much clearer and sharper transfer and there is a good amount of grain included.  For the most part, “The Manchurian Candidate” looks very good, although I did see some occasional flickering.  I didn’t notice white speckles on this transfer (as seen through other MGM/20th Century Fox Blu-ray such as “The Misfits” and “Some Like It Hot” released on the same day), so I was pretty impressed by the overall detail of the film.

AUDIO:

“The Manchurian Candidate” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French 5.1 Dolby Digital.   While the dialogue is center channel driven and the music from David Amram as well as some of action sequences were quite clear coming through the front channels, there is also good use of the surround channels for ambient noises.  Especially in one scene where you hear the clock ticking or during the press conference and you can hear the buzzing machine from the surround channels. But there is a good amount of surround, especially during the fighting scene between Sinatra and Henry Silva which also utilizes the surround channels very well.

But for the most part, the lossless audio soundtrack does feature  a 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Although, purists hoping for the original mono audio may be disappointed that it is not included on this Blu-ray release.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Manchurian Candidate” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer.  Frankhenheimer sets the scene up and shares some insights of things that happened while filming “The Manchurian Candidate”.
  • Exclusive Interview with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer –  (7:59) A classic interview featuring the three discussing the film and also Sinatra talks about how he broke his finger during the fighting scene.
  • Queen of Diamons Featurette – (14:51) Featuring Angela Lansbury talking about working with John Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and the legacy of the film.
  • A Little Solitaire Featurette – A look at John Frankenheimer’s work, Sinatra’s one-take attitude and director William Friedkin discussing the film and why Frankheimer was a director he looks up to.
  • How to Get Shot – (1:07) Angela Lansbury talks about the research she did to learn how one should react when getting shot in the head and how the movement of the body should be.
  • Phone Call – (:26) William Friedkin’s interview being interrupted by a phone call.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer – (1:50) The original theatrical trailer for “The Manchurian Candidate”.

Back in 1962, it was quite daring for a filmmaker and a screenwriter to take on a film that dealt with a presidential hopeful assassination but also to take on a film that would focus on how foreign countries can use brainwashing of American soldiers to their advantage.

As farfetched as it may have seemed, back in 1962, the idea of political extremism rang true as America saw what happened during Senator McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Government Operations Committee but also to see how far Hollywood was targeted a decade earlier for “un-American activities” but it was a year later when President Kennedy was killed and people wondered about Lee Harvey Oswald, if he was indeed working or colluding with the communists, and many would wonder if situations that took place in “The Manchurian Candidate” can truly happen.

Over the decades, the film would begin to achieve its own recognition outside of early American politics and be viewed on its own as a well-written, well-directed political thriller that really took a risk in trying to grasp on America’s fears at the time and show them an alternate storyline of what could be happening in today’s society, playing to the fears of communism and back in 1962, there was a lot of fear.

And because of John Frankenheimer’s goal to achieving perfection, his depiction of an assassination at a political rally seemed real and sure enough, while JFK’s assassination would come a year later, the film would also generate fears after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 after Kennedy was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant after Kennedy announced victory in California Democratic presidential primary.

Sirhan’s lawyer has claimed that Sirhan was programmed by some group or organization to shoot the politician while under hypnosis.

Times were much different back then, but “The Manchurian Candidate” was a unique film for its time…sophisticated, cleverly written, because it focused on political extremism and communist brainwashing of American soldiers, film critics and audiences saw a terrifying and shocking film that has never been done in America ever before.

In 2011, to celebrate the coming 50th year anniversary of the film, Twentieth Century Fox has done a magnificent job in bringing us “The Manchurian Candidate” on Blu-ray.  For anyone who has owned this film on DVD or other video versions of the film need to know that the picture quality and the lossless soundtrack for this film is magnificent!

The picture quality is the best I have seen for this film and it looked very good!  Granted, purists may be disappointed that a monaural soundtrack was not included and for those expecting something new for the 50th anniversary, may be disappointed to see nothing really added.

But if you are looking for the definitive version of “The Manchurian Candidate”, this version is the best thus far!

While Frank Sinatra is the top-billed star and he does have a really important role, especially a fighting scene in the film and while Laurence Harvey is the man being mind-controlled, possibly the star of the film that didn’t get top-billing but gives one heck of a performance as a villain is Angela Lansbury.  Yes, we know of her today through roles in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, “Murder, She Wrote” and even the voice for Disney’s animated film “Beauty and the Beast”, she gives one of the most creepiest performances for a female star and its no wonder that she continues to reach the top 10 for polls for “top villain”. While Frankenheimer did not push the incest button as was featured on Richard Condon’s novel, I can imagine the gasps in the theater when they saw the kiss between Mrs. Iselin and her son Raymond Shaw.

But it’s a well-directed, well-written film and solid performances from Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh.

A wonderful classic on Blu-ray, “The Manchurian Candidate” is highly recommended!

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