WolfmanOz at the Movies #62

Queen of Diamonds

Released in 1962, The Manchurian Candidate stands as one of the most insanely plotted and brilliantly executed political thrillers ever made.

The plot centres on Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw (played by Laurence Harvey), who is part of a prominent political family. Shaw is brainwashed by Chinese and Soviet communists after his army platoon is captured in Korea.

Shaw returns to civilian life in the United States, where he becomes an unwitting assassin in an international communist conspiracy led by his mother. The group plans to assassinate the presidential nominee of an American political party leading to the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Shaw is triggered by agents when they suggesting he plays solitaire; where the queen of diamonds activates him.

I never really cared for Laurence Harvey as an actor, but in this film, he is perfectly cast as the unlikeable but oddly sympathetic Shaw. It was arguably his finest movie performance.

He is ably supported by Frank Sinatra in one of his best roles as the army intelligence officer who begins to unravel the diabolical plot.

But the film also boasts one of the all-time great villainess in Shaw’s mother, played by the late Angela Lansbury of Jessica Fletcher / Murder She Wrote fame.

Lansbury was only 3 years older than Harvey but she is superbly convincing as his evil and manipulative mother who has incestuous feelings for her son. It is an unforgettable performance, as she is also the controlling wife of a witch-hunting anti-Communist senator with his eyes on the White House.

According to a false rumour, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after  JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963. The film was never removed, and public interest in it was minor before the shootings of Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald and the autumn 1962 release had run its course. Movie distributors avoided reviving a thriller with a bleak ending that millions of people had seen barely a year earlier. Of course following the assassination there was much talk and conjecture that Oswald was a Manchurian Candidate.

Director John Frankenheimer had a varied career, of which this film was his finest but his other notable films, mostly from the early to mid 1960s include Birdman Of Alcatraz, Seven Days In May, The Train, Seconds and French Connection II.

The Manchurian Candidate is a classic blend of satire and political thriller that was uncomfortably prescient in its own time. It was remade in 2004 with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep with an updated emphasis on the Gulf War. It’s pretty good but no classic like the original is.

This film also takes aim at the frenzy of the McCarthy era whilst also depicting the Cold War paranoia of the times; The Manchurian Candidate remains potent and shocking moviemaking whilst it still remains distressingly relevant today and it is in my top 100 favourite films of all-time.

Enjoy.

I’ll be in Auckland next week for a family wedding but I’ll still have my weekly post for next week submitted to Dover later this week.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . Tom, Dick and Harry.

20 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #62”

  1. There was also that Mel Gibson/Julia Roberts movie in the nineties that was a mix of conspiracy theories and assassin brainwashing. A bit tedious as I recall.
    I can’t even recall its name, or bother looking it up.

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  2. Entropy says:
    March 16, 2023 at 8:30 am
    There was also that Mel Gibson/Julia Roberts movie in the nineties that was a mix of conspiracy theories and assassin brainwashing. A bit tedious as I recall.
    I can’t even recall its name, or bother looking it up.

    Conspiracy Theory.

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  3. Laurence Harvey (east European?) had a cold look about him; he wasn’t pretty.
    But I liked him in all his films.

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  4. Wolfie, this is one of my all-time favourite movies. There are few actors/actresses, imho, who can play equally well heroes and villains; Angela Lansbury is one of them. (You can see her sinister/indifferent side playing the maid in Gaslight as well).

    Laurence Harvey is perfect with that blend of grating and yet vulnerability of Raymond.

    Janet Leigh ably assists as the support to Sinatra’s character; as he endures and then comes to realise, is mind control, and which is leading/forcing Raymond to commit murder to bring in totalitarian rule in the country.

    The black and white filming lends real foreboding to the film. And the story, performances, screenplay and direction are all first class.

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  5. the tease for next weeks post . . . Tom, Dick and Harry.

    That’s an easy one. 😀
    I think I still have the book around somewhere. Fine movie!

    Never really was interested in The Manchurian Candidate for some reason or other. But it’s interesting in light of the revelations of the Biden family finances this week.

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  6. Bar Beach Swimmer says:
    March 16, 2023 at 10:22 am

    Good comment . . . Thanks !

    Bruce of Newcastle says:
    March 16, 2023 at 10:35 am
    the tease for next weeks post . . . Tom, Dick and Harry.
    That’s an easy one. ?

    Yeah not too difficult . . . Just about finished the post for submission to Dover.

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  7. the tease for next weeks post . . . Tom, Dick and Harry.

    “They’ve found Tom!”, uttered in a Scottish brogue.

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  8. Angela Lansbury deserved an Oscar for her performance in the role of the manipulative mother ! wow! Sadly she missed out and it put her off movies for a while which was theatre’s gain. Angela Lansbury an extraordinary and talented actress.

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  9. I watched this movie once, but it didn’t work for me. The concept of ‘brainwashing’ as depicted in popular culture simply doesn’t happen. You cannot force or persuade an adult to play a role and do something that is completely alien to his or her character and core beliefs.

    You can certainly influence people, especially young people, in a certain direction. The culture they grow up in is crucial. And you can prey on vulnerable people who are mentally ill or disengaged from society to cause them to do extreme things.

    Not the same thing.

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  10. Oh, and a big shout out for Dame Ange. What a trouper and a talent! 70+ years in the business, always in work, not bad for someone who started out as a hoofer.

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  11. I think this, and many other movies (someone up thread mentioned Conspiracy Theory), leapt into being due to the CIA’s MK Ultra program.

    It’s tantalising to imagine that you could have a “sleeper” so deeply embedded that they can only be activated by a code word (the Bourne movies are premised on this).

    Another movie that has crept into modern folklore and cultural shorthand with the term “Manchurian Candidate”. You don’t need to see it to know what it means.

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  12. The last 3 years have shown that you don’t need a Manchurian Candidate, just the WEF and its acolytes.
    Don’t look for anything complicated when corruption and self-interest are available.

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  13. Good on you Wolfie. You have been knocking it out of the park lately. Too bad one of the streaming services don’t employ you to do a ‘Bill Collins’, so we can watch your weekly movie.

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  14. jupes says:
    March 16, 2023 at 6:49 pm
    Good on you Wolfie. You have been knocking it out of the park lately. Too bad one of the streaming services don’t employ you to do a ‘Bill Collins’, so we can watch your weekly movie.

    Thanks jupes – put in a good word with Foxtel for me – I could host their Fox Classics movie every night !

    There are hundred upon hundreds of movies from the last century I can critique (let alone past directors, actors and actresses) . . . whereas for this century I’ve done only 2 in my 62 posts . . . and I don’t think I’ll be adding to that much in the coming months.

    I know not everyone is going to like every movie I put up – The Manchurian Candidate didn’t work for johanna and that’s cool. It would be a very dull world where everyone likes the same thing. Although from my previous posts I’d suggest Zulu is a Cat favourite.

    I wouldn’t mind betting that next weeks’ movie will be a strong favourite with a lot of Cats – all written and completed and submitted to Dover for scheduling next week.

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  15. This movie scared the bejezus out of me when I saw it … mind you I was only 12 or 13 when I saw it.

    But the thought that a person could be turned into a virtual robot, unfeeling and unstoppable, chilled me to the core. It was only much later … and with great relief … that I learnt that the premise was, basically, impossible.

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  16. Wolfman, I greatly appreciate your contributions, and any negative comments should be taken in that light. 🙂

    P S – I’m currently binge-watching British B movies of the 50s and 60s on the ‘British B Movies and more’ youtube channel. Some great stuff there. Currently watching Never Let Go, from 1960 starring (among others) Peter Sellers as the villain. It’s a corker!

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  17. You want frightened? Read Greg Bear “Vitals” and “Quantico”. Maybe turning people into robots is possible.

  18. johanna says:
    March 17, 2023 at 9:48 am
    Wolfman, I greatly appreciate your contributions, and any negative comments should be taken in that light. ?

    P S – I’m currently binge-watching British B movies of the 50s and 60s on the ‘British B Movies and more’ youtube channel. Some great stuff there. Currently watching Never Let Go, from 1960 starring (among others) Peter Sellers as the villain. It’s a corker!

    All good johanna – always appreciate your comments.

    Yes, I’ve seen Never Let Go and Sellers is particularly effective as the villain. He will be the subject of one of weekly posts eventually.

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