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.
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.