There is something timeless and menacing about a scenario where nothing is as it seems and you don’t know whom to trust. The Manchurian Candidate, a seminal film from 1962, brings these concepts to bear and quite a few plot twists (rare for the time) delivering an excellent and taut thriller that holds up quite well on Blu-ray.
The Manchurian Candidate is the story of a group of soldiers captured during the Korean War, who are saved from captivity by their seemingly heroic Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). When they return to the United States, Shaw is nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor by his Captain, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra). Once he is awarded the medal Shaw is catapulted into the spotlight by his conniving mother played divinely and with fervor by Angela Lansbury.
Marco and a few of his fellow soldiers have trouble assimilating back into society and sense that something is not right. It quickly seems to them that the source of their discomfort centers around Shaw, but what exactly happened escapes them, at least at the start. I don’t want to ruin the twists for those who have not seen the movie, but it is a devious and thought-provoking scenario that challenges what we perceive humanity can be conditioned to do.
The movie is full of excellent performances as mentioned, by Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey and a far too brief supporting role by Janet Leigh as Marco’s love interest, but the true standout is Frank Sinatra. I have to confess, I have never been a Sinatra fan, and in fact I have always thought he was over-rated as an actor, but this film has made me a believer. His neurotic behavior, troubled stares and general stance and bearing fit so perfectly the role of a man out of his depth and wondering what is real and fake, I was drawn into the story.
The Manchurian Candidate is a powerful film and if you have not seen it yet it is something every fan of cinema should watch if only for its thought-provoking and disturbing concepts. It takes a look at an era of fear and animosity in the United State and injects a conspiracy into the mix seemingly justifying that fear – or does it justify it? You will have to watch the movie to be sure, but remember as you watch this excellent film that Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.
This fully black and white feature is presented in a crisp 1080p transfer with an 1.75:1 aspect ratio that is quite pleasing but not without some flaws. One of the best features of the transfer are the black levels, which are truly outstanding most of the time and quite good the rest. Generally the image is very detailed and holds up quite well, but occasional shots pop up that are soft and the film grain is inconsistent in its prevalence. None of this spoils the film as the transfer is very capable and shows care was taken in converting this to Blu-ray and helps the film withstand the test of time.
The Manchurian Candidate is a thoughtful and quiet film, mostly centering around dialogue between small groups of people; the included lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is perhaps overkill, but not unappreciated. As the movie was filmed in stereo I initially feared that there would be unnecessary and forced usage of the surround field, but by and large I was pleasantly surprised by the occasional and effective use of locational audio. Dialogue is quite clear at all times and while some pieces (like narration) sound hollow, that is more tied to the way the film was put together in editing than how it was converted to Blu-ray. This ends up delivering a pleasant audio mix that complements the nature of the film in a pervasive but not oppressive way.
- Feature Commentary: This commentary by director John Frankenheimer is a must-listen for fans of cinema. The man was an incredibly intelligent and influential director and this commentary was a pleasure to experience.
- Interview with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer (SD; 7:59): A filmed meeting from 1988 between the director and the two stars.
- Queen of Diamonds (SD; 14:51) Say what you will about Angela Lansbury but she is a treat to watch and a talented actress as demonstrated in this featurette.
- A Little Solitaire (SD; 13:17): A featurette with Oscar winning director William Friedkin talking about Frankenheimer and the importance of this film.
- How to Get Shot (SD; 1:07): A featurette with Lansbury discussing a pivotal scene in the movie.
- Phone Call (SD; 00:26): An outtake from the ‘A Little Solitaire’ Featurette.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Final Word
The Manchurian Candidate is a movie that despite some cultural stereotypes holds up incredibly well over 50 years after its debut in theatres. This is a movie about the paranoia, fear and anger within our culture and how that fear is sometimes based on reality or perceived reality. Standout performances from Lansbury and Sinatra further cement this is as a film that has a deserved place in our cultural cinema handbook. Highly recommended based on the quality of the film itself, and the transfer is handled in a way that complements and respects the source material.