“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
Set and made during the Cold War, The Manchurian Candidate starts during the Korean War where the extremely unlikable Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) along with the rest of his platoon including Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) are captured. Shaw apparently saves the entire platoon except for two men and is awarded the Medal of Honor.
Marco has recurring nightmares where the entire platoon is sitting in front a group of old ladies that turn into Soviet Russians and Communist Chinese who are discussing brainwashing. Marco thinks he’s nuts until he runs into another soldier who is having the same nightmares and has the same response whenever Shaw’s name is mentioned, despite both men disliking Shaw. “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
Shaw’s mother Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) is married to Senator John Iselin (James Gregory) who is running a campaign of fear and paranoia by constantly proclaiming that there are communists (not unlike Senator John McCarthy) within the Department of Defense. Shaw hates his mother who only seems concerned about her husband’s political career.
Marco keeps digging to find out the truth behind what really happened in Korea. It seems that Shaw was brainwashed into a trained killer and the rest of the men brainwashed into acting normal. Shaw is activated by a key phrase, “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?” When he reaches the Queen of Diamonds he can receive his orders and will carry them out without fail. Marco discovers this and informs Shaw sand they start working to figure out the conspiracy that is at work and try to find out who Shaw is supposed to assassinate.
Everyone is excellent in the movie but Angela Lansbury is especially good. You just hate her – after watching this movie you can never watch another Murder She Wrote without suspecting that she was the one really doing all the killings. John Frankenheimer made a lot of excellent movies but this was his best.
The Criterion Collection just released this week a nice 4K digital restoration of director John Frankenheimer’s 1962 classic thriller on Blu-ray. The new Criterion looks fantastic and as always is filled with a ton of excellent extras. Fantastic movie.