Warfare in film is rarely presented as anything more than horrid and dangerous. Few would dare to present the death and destruction left in the path of those that served as anything more than harrowing and permanently scarring. The Manchurian Candidate does a fine job of damning those few gormless, mind-numbingly dense citizens who heap praise on those who would rather forget about the horrors they experienced. Director John Frankenheimer, alongside Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra, makes this clear from the immediate moments of this stellar thriller detailing a brainwashed war hero and his commanding officer’s futile attempts at saving him from sleep-walking into destruction.
Medal of Honour winner Raymond Shaw (Harvey) returns home to fanfare and adoration that he neither wants nor believes he deserves. A man that pushes himself away from the publicity peddling parents he is doomed to relate himself to, Shaw moves away to New York to begin working with a newspaper. It is here that the story provides its catalyst, shadowing Shaw’s move to journalism with the haunted nightmares of squadron commander Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra). Combining these focused narrative strokes with the underlying fear of communism is well-managed, ultimately crashing the two into one another with relatively sound and engaging style.
Frankenheimer weaves the various supporting stories with exceptional skill, but there are moments where the story feels sluggish or aimless. He doesn’t capture the very best his story has to offer, but the result of his efforts is solid enough to carry Sinatra, Harvey and Angela Lansbury to some more than acceptable performances. Sinatra is a surprising draw that The Manchurian Candidate isn’t scared to rely on. His presence is a drastic and well needed one, the straight man in an otherwise lucid and flowing story. Presenting a stern military draw for much of the first act, it soon dissolves in the face of reality, and his powerfully emotive performance showcases the very real and talented powers he had on screen. Great chemistry with Harvey makes for a grand collection of memorable scenes that display the horrors of PTSD with a rather sweeping hand.
A fantastic and angered criticism, scathing the military of America and the larger-than-life heroism that has shrouded the real horrors of long term mental-health afflictions that come with serving for your country. Showcasing the fractured mind and horrors of brainwashing attempts, The Manchurian Candidate is a superb thriller that connects a squadron removed of their guilt with the deaths of those around them. Frankenheimer brings together the ominous tones to the forefront with a style and series of events that only he could employ. Rather an incredible story at times, the occasional pieces that feel far-fetched are grounded well with incredible style and structure.