During the Korean War, a platoon led by Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra is captured and sent off to Manchuria. Here the men are brainwashed into believing that Harvey saved them all in an incredible feat of heroism (which he did not) and that he’s a loveable guy (which he isn’t).The unfortunate Harvey is programmed to become a remote-control assassin. Back in the States, Sinatra is plagued by nightmare memories of the experience, and gradually comes to believe that something … really did happen. The question is whether he and Harvey can solve the mystery and discover the target before Harvey is triggered.
The Manchurian Candidate accomplishes a spectacular balancing act. It is simultaneously one of the most intense suspense thrillers ever to emerge from Hollywood, and an absolutely corrosive satire. Said satire is all the more brilliant for savaging both the extreme right and the extreme left of the political spectrum. Also of note is Angela Lansbury’s ferocious performance as Harvey’s gorgon mother. Only 37, and but three years older than the man playing her son, she is utterly convincing, and a villain for the ages. Unquestionably, this is director John Frankenheimer’s masterpiece.
The Manchurian Candidate is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of nearly 40 mbps. The black-and-white tones are excellent, and the image is sharp (note that you can actually see a struck drum vibrate in the scene where Harvey arrives at the airport). The big improvement is the fact that the widescreen picture is now anamorphic.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is quite well done. One should not expect a fully immersive experience with a remixed 1962 score, but the result is nonetheless impressive. There are no awkward surround voices, for one thing. The music has a rich tone. The surround effects are understandably limited, but when present, they are handled well and placed appropriately (such as machine gun fire in the opening scene). A very solid job.
Frankenheimer’s commentary has lots of behind-the-scenes info, but there are plenty of long pauses too.
The features are the same as the previous release. Returning are the interview with Sinatra, writer George Axelrod and Frankenheimer, Queen of Diamonds (a retrospective interview with Lansbury), A Little Solitaire (musings on the film by William Friedkin, who knows a thing or two about filmmaking himself) and a photo gallery. Both featurettes are about 15 minutes long.
Watching this film again after the rather underwhelming remake, one can’t help but be enthralled by the film’s complicated undertones and wonderful performances. The atmosphere is chilling at times. These are the kinds of classics I’m looking forward to seeing come alive on new Blu-ray releases.
Some material written by Gino Sassani