Major Bennett Marco’s (Frank Sinatra) company was captured and brainwashed while serving in Korea. Each member of the group believes that they were in a heavy firefight with two of their company KIA. Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) was the hero in this battle. Despite overwhelming odds he saved the remaining group and stopped the enemy advance. Marco’s present-day dreams tell a different story. He has “seen” Shaw kill the two members of his company while in a room filled with Communist officers. The decorated Shaw has returned home as the ‘son’ of a senator bound for the vice presidency. Both Shaw and the Senator are tools and the mother holds the handle. While the Senator is complicit, Shaw, unaware, has a “mission” that is prompted by viewing a playing card. Marco must unwrap his own mind before he can begin to anticipate Shaw’s next move. Angela Lansbury (cast against type) plays Shaw’s mother. Norman Bates felt that “a boy’s best friend is his mother”. That’s hardly the case here. This is probably the best Sinatra performance I’ve ever seen. Lansbury frightens. Harvey carries his water convincingly. While I’ve no doubt that the Red Scare and the start of the Cold War heightened audience interest in “Manchurian”, it remains riveting even removed from this period by nearly 50 years. There is one early scene that I found incredible enough to warrant repeated rewinds: “The Manchurian Garden Party” A single tracking shot flows around the room, panning from face to face, until it arrives –jarringly- at its destination. I found myself captivated by the next several minutes of reality vs. perception rivalry. The “Twilight Zone” was breeched.
Awf Hand gives 4 out of 4 stars. Having seen the 2004 “Manchurian Candidate” I was NOT looking forward to this stop on my journey. The 1962 “MC” reigns distantly supreme.
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