Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 23rd, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1962
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Richard Condon, George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver
BluRay released: February 23rd, 2015
Approximate running times: 126 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Academy
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Synopsis: A former sergeant that was given a medal for his bravery in the Korean War is brainwashed and turned into an assassin by communist sympathizers that want to take over America by executing a coup d’état.
The Manchurian Candidate was co-written and directed by John Frankenheimer, who’s other notable films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Train, Seven Days in May and Seconds. Key collaborators on The Manchurian Candidate include cinematographer Lionel Lindon (Around the World in Eighty Days -1956 version) and screenwriter George Axelrod (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How to Murder Your Wife). The screenplay for The Manchurian Candidate was adapted from Richard Condon’s (Winter Kill, Prizzi’s Honor) novel of the same name.
The Manchurian Candidate was made during a time when McCarthyism and its after affects were still fresh in the majority of American’s minds. At the core of McCarthyism was political witch hunt to expose anyone who supported or sympathized with communism. And by the time that support for McCarthyism began to wane there were literally hundreds who were falsely accused, imprisoned and blacklisted from their professions.
Thematically The Manchurian Candidate would explore the things have since becomes synonymous with McCarthyism. Also when The Manchurian Candidate was first released the Cold War with U.S.S.R. was at its height due to the Cuban Missile crisis which started ten days before this film was released. And the threat of communist infiltrating the USA was considering a real possibility. And this type of threat is something that runs deep throughout The Manchurian Candidate, a film that features a protagonist that had been brainwashed by communists. This character has been programed to essentially be weapon that the communist sympathizers plan to use to gain control of The United States government.
The film’s narrative is meticulously constructed to the point that no detail, no matter how small is insignificant. Another area where this film excels are its well-defined characters who motivations are always crystal clear. Outside of this film’s protagonist Raymundo Shaw, there are no grey areas with the other characters as they all are either portrayed good or bad. And not to be overlooked is the film’s stunning use of black & white cinematography and wide angle lenses which reinforce this film’s paranoia overtones. Also though there are many remarkable moments visually in this film. The one that stands out more than any other is the sequence where Raymond Shaw and his platoon are being brainwashed. In this scene the camera moves in a 360 degree motion around the room which reveals to realities. Shaw and his platoon believe that they are at a garden party with a group of elderly ladies, when in reality they in a room full of communists all wearing their military uniforms.
From performance standpoint one would be hard pressed to name many films that from top to bottom have as many great performances as their in this film. Needless to say this film has a remarkable cast which is anchored by three performances, Laurence Harvey (Butterfield 8, Darling) in the role of Raymond Shaw, Angela Lansbury (Gaslight, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) in the role of Raymond’s overbearing mother and Frank Sinatra (Suddenly, The Man with the Golden Arm) in the pivotal role of Major Bennett Marco. Sinatra and Lansbury’s characters serves opposite purposes in regard to the Raymond Shaw character. Where Sinatra’s character is the one who help’s unravel the conspiracy. It is Lansbury’s character who is the mastermind behind the said conspiracy. And as good as they are in their respective roles this film would not have worked as well as it does without Harvey’s tour de force performance.
The Manchurian Candidate comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Details look crisp, contrast levels look excellent, black levels are solid and shadow detail look consistently strong throughout. Grain looks accurate and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in English and removable English SDH subtitles have been included with this release. The audio is in great shape as dialog is always clear and everything sounds balanced. This is a dialog driven film and this audio mixes does a superb job with the subtle nuances of this film’s soundtrack.
Extras for this release include, a trailer for the film (1 minute 56 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), interviews with actress Angela Lansbury (14 minutes 51 seconds – 1080 progressive), filmmaker William Friedkin (13 minutes 17 seconds – 1080 progressive) and interviews with John Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra and screenwriter George Axelrod from the film’s 1988 revival (7 minutes 48 seconds – 1080 progressive), a documentary from 2003 titled ‘The Directors: John Frankenheimer’ (58 minutes 32 seconds – 1080 progressive) and an audio commentary with director John Frankenheimer.
Topics discussed in the interview with Angela Lansbury include, how she had previously worked with John Frankenheimer on All Fall Down and it was during their time together on that film that he approached her about The Manchurian Candidate, her thoughts on Eleanor Shaw Iselin the character she portrayed, working with Frankenheimer and his directing style, her thoughts on the cast and the characters that they portrayed, critics response to the film and why the film was pulled from circulation for twenty five years.
Topics discussed in the interview with William Friedkin include, John Frankenheimer’s influence on his as a filmmaker, the cast, the look of the film, the editing, his thoughts on the film and its legacy.
Topics discussed in the interview with John Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra and George Axelrod include, how Sinatra’s involvement is what got the film made, differences between the book and the film and their thoughts on the cast.
The documentary titled ‘The Directors: John Frankenheimer’ is a career overview that covers all of his films up to Path to War.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with John Frankenheimer include, how this film was turned down by every Hollywood studio, how he and George Axelrod were able to secure the films adaption rights, how Frank Sinatra’s involvement got them film made, the look of the film and the use of wide angle lenses, locations featured in the film, he discusses how they shot the scene where Raymond Shaw and group of soldiers are brainwashed, his thoughts on the cast and their performances and the film’s finale.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option, an Easter egg – which is a brief clip with actress Angela Lansbury and forty page booklet with cast & crew credits, contemporary reviews, two essays, the first essay titled ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ written by Peter Knight and the second essay titled ‘The Facts Behind the Fiction’ and information about the transfer. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall The Manchurian Candidate gets a first rate release from Arrow Academy, highly recommended.