The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

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Released 18-Feb-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-John Frankenheimer (Director)
Featurette-Interviews With Frank Sinatra, Director And Producer
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 121:21 (Case: 129)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:35) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Frankenheimer
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Finnish
Norwegian
Danish
Portuguese
Polish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A patrol in Korea in 1952 is captured by the Chinese. Brainwashed, they perform a demonstration of the effectiveness of the Communists' techniques, while all the time imagining that they are at a meeting of the Ladies' Garden Club.

    Repatriated to America, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for valour in rescuing the platoon. But the other survivors of the patrol, including Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra), are plagued with dreams that seem to suggest that things did not occur as they remember. Shaw's mother (Angela Lansbury) is a highly political woman, pushing and controlling Shaw's stepfather Senator Iselin (James Gregory) at the expense of everything and everyone else. Shaw rejects her and goes to work for a publisher. But Communist agents have expertly programmed him and two years later are about to hatch a plan that will see them gain significant political influence in the United States. Unless, of course, Marco can stop him.

    This is a complex and satisfying thriller based on a novel by Richard Condon, expertly written for the screen by George Axelrod. Filled with black humour (such as the karate fight between Sinatra and Henry Silva, or the way in which the number of Communists in the Defense Department is determined) and references to the political scene of the time, Axelrod manages to balance these elements and yet build suspense so that until the last moments it is not clear what is going to happen. Couple that with the clever direction of John Frankenheimer and you have one of the best films of the 1960s.

    There are several elements in the plot that would have had greater resonance for people of the era than they do today, such as Iselin's McCarthy-like attacks on Communists in the Defense Department. The undercurrent of incest is also present: just think about the scene at the fancy dress party where Shaw meets Jocelyn again and his reaction to her, in the light of her costume and what the image is supposed to mean to Shaw. There is also an interesting use of icons in the houses of Iselin and his adversary Senator Jordan. The former has paintings and busts of Lincoln, the latter has eagles. The first time we see Lincoln, Iselin's face is reflected in the portrait, while in Jordan's first scene he appears to have sprouted wings.

    The performances in this film are uniformly excellent. This was probably Frank Sinatra's finest work in the cinema, as the haunted but tough Captain. Laurence Harvey never did anything better either, and as a result it does not seem strange to have an English actor playing an American soldier. James Gregory is excellent as the dumb demagogue Iselin, and his counterpart Jordan is well played by veteran scene stealer John McGiver. But the finest performance in the film is by Angela Lansbury as Shaw's monstrous mother. Though only two years older than Harvey, she manages to convince that she is his mother, and dominates the film and every scene she is in. There is also an amusing performance by Janet Leigh as a woman whom Marco meets on a train.

    The year following its release, some American politician was slain by a sniper and the film was withdrawn from release for many years. The film was re-released in 1987.

    In summary, a superb thriller whose impact has not diminished with the passing of forty years.

    Unbelievably, a remake directed by Jonathan Demme has been completed for release in July 2004. Marco is played by Denzel Washington, Shaw by Liev Schreiber and his mother by Meryl Streep. This time the brainwashing was done during the first Gulf War, and a terrible vengeance will likely be wreaked on the cinema-going public.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 but unfortunately is not 16x9 enhanced. The IMDb shows the original aspect ratio as 1.85:1.

    While this is not an enhanced transfer, it is sharp enough to view without wincing too often. Shadow detail is average. The black and white image looks passably like the cinema release, but does not look up to the standard of other films of the era, or even before, that have been transferred to DVD.

    Due to the lack of widescreen enhancement there are several visible film to video artefacts. The most regular of these is aliasing, which rears its ugly head regularly. There are also a lot of jagged edges which should be straight, and there is some noticeable edge enhancement.

    This is not a restored print, so there is a lot of dirt and minor print damage throughout as well as minor scratches. There were also some reel change markings at the end of the film. The transfer is also quite grainy at times.

    Subtitles in English and a number of other languages are available. The subtitles are quite accurate to the dialogue, and are white over a black strip. If your TV has some overscan (like mine), you may experience having part of the subtitles cut off at the bottom.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change occurring at 55:35 during a scene between Marco and Shaw and is slightly disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The default audio channel is English Dolby Digital 2.0 and is mono. The slick suggests (technically) incorrectly that this is a 1.0 mix.

    The audio is reasonably good, with clear and distinct dialogue. This soundtrack is as good as could be expected from a film of this vintage. The dynamic range is acceptable and there is a reasonable amount of bass and treble, although there was some sibilance noted from time to time.

    The music is by David Amram, and sounds much like American classical music of the 1950s. I did not feel that the melancholy music was totally appropriate in style, but it was not used to excess.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    If you were to take the slick as a guide, you would think that the extras extended only to a trailer and nothing more. But no, there are two more extras.

Audio Commentary by Director John Frankenheimer

    This is a feature length commentary by the late director, which is interesting although there are occasionally lengthy gaps. He discusses some aspects of the look of the film, plus he notes where some of the dialogue came from, and points out crew and actors that he worked with regularly, although he does seem to have forgotten Whit Bissell's name.

Interview with John Frankenheimer, George Axelrod and Frank Sinatra (7:58)

    This is a too-short sequence of the three principals behind the film reminiscing in 1988, shot for the home video release. It is a pity that this is not more substantial, as each seems quite enthusiastic about the film and their participation in it.

Theatrical Trailer (1:46)

    This is a nice trailer presented at 1.33:1. It is not in as good condition as the main feature, but is notable in that it contains no dialogue, yet still manages to make the film seem interesting.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The original US Region 1 seems to be identical to the Region 4, having the same transfer and extras, but with the added "bonus" of having a pan and scan transfer on the flip side. The UK Region 2  appears to be the same as the Region 4.

    There is a new US Region 1 Special Edition being released in July 2004 to coincide with the new film. In addition to the existing extras, there are two featurettes: one with William Friedkin and another with Angela Lansbury, as well as a photo gallery. Most importantly though, this edition features a 16x9 enhanced transfer, so if I wanted to have this film on DVD I would probably plump for the Special Edition. Hopefully this new edition will get released in Region 4 in the not-too-distant future.

Summary

    A superb political thriller which should be in everyone's collection. That is, when a better edition is released.

    The video quality is not the best.

    The audio quality is quite good.

    The extras are pretty good too, though I would have liked to have more.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, July 09, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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