Upon its release in 1962, film critic Pauline Kael rightly called The Manchurian Candidate perhaps the most sophisticated political satire ever made. That by turns its frightening, surreal and slyly satirical story holds up — here a bit more so than in Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake, starring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep — is a testament largely to Richard Condon’s novel and George Axelrod’s screenplay adaptation. The printed word remains the thing. Of course, director John Frankenheimer’s skill with a scene didn’t hurt either — his staging of the dual tea club/Communist brainwashers garden party remains a classic.
Frank Sinatra’s star turn as distressed soldier Bennett Marco, meanwhile, is much remarked upon, but for me alternately stiff and mannered. (I’d blocked from memory, too, Sinatra’s tiger-fist martial arts rootdown.) Instead, it’s Laurence Harvey, as programmed solitaire player Raymond Shaw, who with his cool, deadpan state anchors The Manchurian Candidate, a film prescient for the manner in which it assays the perversion of the political process. Supplemental features on the film’s special edition DVD are anchored by two 14-minute interview segments with co-star Angela Lansbury and filmmaker William Friedkin, the latter of whom serves here as a loosely historical framer. (There are also two Easter egg tidbits from the special menus screen, accessed by scrolling to the right over the playing card.) Finally, rounding things out is an audio commentary track with Frankenheimer recorded prior to his death, as well as an adulatory, recycled eight-minute interview from the movie’s 1988 VHS release with tidbits from the filmmaker, writer Axelrod and Sinatra. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) B (Disc)