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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Manchurian Candidate

May 19th, 2011

The Manchurian Candidate - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

I'm a little confused why The Manchurian Candidate is coming out on Blu-ray this year, as next year is the film's 50th anniversary. Then again, MGM barely survived as a studio, so maybe they just needed the money.

The Movie

Set during the Korean War, the film starts with the platoon of Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) getting some R&R in a local, and illegal, tavern. While on patrol, the men are captured by Russian soldiers.

Flash forward to the end of the war and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw is awarded the Medal of Honor on the recommendation of Captain Bennett Marco, but his mother, Mrs. Iselin, seems more excited by the medal than he is. She can use it to drum up publicity for her husband, and Raymond's stepfather, Senator John Iselin, who is up for re-election. The senator is a bombastic, but not to bright, anti-Communist extremist. Raymond, on the other hand, despises his stepfather, wants nothing to do with his re-election campaign and instead is going to New York for a job at a newspaper, mainly to get away from his mother and stepfather.

Meanwhile, Bennett Marco, now a Major working with Army Intelligence, is dealing with recurring nightmares about being with his platoon at a conference about hydrangeas held by a bunch of old ladies. But as the dream continues, he sees the room is instead filled Russians and Chinese and the man leading the talk orders Raymond Shaw to kill one of his fellow soldiers, at which time Bennett Marco wakes up. Army Intelligence hears his story, but since no one else has been having these nightmares, there's nothing to really investigate, so they just reassign him to PR duties. But when he learns a second member of his platoon is having the same nightmare, it's enough to get the army to allow him to investigate. And to investigate, he will have to get close to Raymond Shaw.

That should be enough of the plot to describe the film without running into too many spoilers. But considering the film is a political thriller centered around a marvelously twisted conspiracy plot, it is hard to describe it at all without some spoilers coming out. Then again, it is also such a famous movie that the name has entered the collective lexicon and is used to describe any political candidate with an alleged hidden agenda. There are many films that have famous quotes that are known to even those that have never seen the movie, but few that can boast that kind of impact.

And it is a well-deserved legacy, as it is top-notch in every regard. Angela Lansbury earned her third Oscar nomination and won her second of six Golden Globes (most of those were for Murder, She Wrote. Meanwhile, John Frankenheimer earned a DGA nomination and a Golden Globe win. I'm a little surprised that the script wasn't nominated, as it is a very taut thriller, with a very sharp political edge to it. (Sadly, these remain as much on target today as they did nearly 50 years ago.) The script might be twisted a little too much for its own good and there are more than a couple places where credibility is strained. This includes some minor details, like using the queen of diamonds as a trigger. That's far too common an item, and the conspirators should have chosen something more unique. There are also more important details that left me wondering. What was with Rosie? Was she in on the conspiracy, because her initial meeting with Marco was, well, odd. It seems like there should have been more there. Maybe it was just a red herring.

The Extras

Extras start with an audio commentary track with John Frankenheimer. It's a solo track and it is not very energetic, but it is also highly informative and worth checking out. Next up is an eight-minute interview with the director, John Frankenheimer; the screenwriter, George Axelrod; and the star, Frank Sinatra. Queen of Diamonds is an 15-minute interview with Angela Lansbury. A Little Solitaire is a 13-minute retrospective by William Friedkin, who talks about the legacy of the film and John Frankenheimer's directing style. How to get Shot and Phone Call are two short clips from the Angela Lansbury and the William Friedkin interviews.

The technical presentation is not particularly strong. The level of grain is a little too high at times, there is not as much detail as you would like, and I noticed a couple problems with what I think is print damage. On the other hand, blacks are very deep, and there is usually good contract. The audio is better and has been upgraded to a 5.1 track. Granted, the surround sound speakers are not put through a workout, but you do get some directional effects.

The Verdict

The Manchurian Candidate is absolutely worth owning on Blu-ray, but be careful of the price. On the list price is $43.60, which is crazy. However, it used to be a Best Buy exclusive, so there's a problem with the price. You can buy it new from one of Amazon's sellers for $14, which is worth it.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Manchurian Candidate