The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

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By Scott Ross

John Frankenheimer’s best movie, a dazzling adaptation of Richard Condon’s dark satire on American geo-politics; the adaptation is by George Axelrod at his wittiest and most concise. Essentially, the narrative is a reiteration of the old trope that the extreme right and extreme left of the 1950s eventually meet in the middle. But the execution of the material, the expert manipulation before and behind the camera, the stunning hints of incest and the black-comedy send-up of Joe McCarthy make this perhaps the ne plus ultra of early 1960s American cinema.

Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury have their finest roles, and Janet Leigh isn’t far behind. (Does she really meet Sinatra on that train by accident, or is she his control?) David Amram composed the effective score, which opens with one of the finest main title themes in any American movie. With Laurence Harvey, Henry Silva, James Gregory and John McGiver, dry as sherry, as that political oxymoron, a warm-hearted Republican moderate.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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