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Peter T Chattaway

the manchurian candidate (1962, 2004)

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How weird to be seeing this film so soon after I wrote my review of Ella Enchanted. I had never seen John Frankenhemier's 1962 film before, so when I saw a trailer for Jonathan Demme's upcoming remake -- and when I realized that the original film co-stars Angela Lansbury, who was the subject of some discussion on the Samson and Delilah thread! -- I figured I'd rent the original and get up to speed. And thus, once again, I have recently seen a film in which a character mindlessly and literalistically obeys a common phrase just because s/he has been programmed for obedience (this time, the common phrase is "jump in the lake").

The Manchurian Candidate is not a bad thriller in some ways, but I have to say I had a difficult time accepting the mechanics of brainwashing as presented in this film. And some of the lines spoken by the Laurence Harvey character are almost laughable (e.g. that whole bit about "loveable" people vs. "unloveable" people). I did, however, like the way the film used seemingly authentic video screens in some shots, and how it accentuated the increasing role that television was beginning to play in federal politics -- this film came out just two years after the Kennedy-Nixon debates, and the Harvey character's stepfather is an "idiot" senator with designs on the vice-presidency whose policies are determined entirely by his wife, and whose main contribution to his own political platform is to make a lot of noise in front of the cameras and to privately worry that his chin may be starting to look a little "chunky."

As for the politics -- whoa, this film seems prescient. One conspirator talks about exploiting the public's patriotism and creating a crisis that will sweep their side into office with powers that will "make martial law look like anarchy." And it all climaxes with an assassination (attempt), with a marksman preparing to bump off a presidential candidate from a point up high during a public rally, which is kinda creepy when you consider that this film came out the year BEFORE a marksman took aim at Kennedy from a point up high during a public motorcade. Hmmm.

I can't begin to imagine how Demme's remake will try to update some of this material. For one thing, the Lansbury character seems like the sort of woman who has been forced to manipulate all the men around her because, well, women don't get to be the public face of politics -- but will that sort of story play these days? Also, the brainwashed soldiers in THIS film are Gulf War vets, not Korean War vets -- so in what sense is the "candidate" of the film's title supposed to be "Manchurian"? Is this just going to be another Demme remake of a 1960s film that flops like The Truth about Charlie (his remake of Charade)?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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As to the role of the woman behind the man, isn't that what many people thought about the Clintons?

I have to say I'm suspicious of the remake. Your comment about how it will be "Manchurian" is a key issue.

I last saw it at the City of Angels Film Festival in 2001 - about 6 weeks after 9/11. The "God Bless America" graffiti in the bar was really noticable. I think the menace that was still felt at the time made the film much more powerful.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: Your comment about how it will be "Manchurian" is a key issue.

FWIW, yesterday my friend at Paramount told me the culprits this time out will come from "the Manchurian Corporation" -- so where the enemy was Communism before, now it's capitalists run amok, I guess. What that will do the story's overall political calculus, I have no idea. (I.e., in the 1962 film, the villains were anti-Communists who temporarily collaborated with Communists because they knew the Communists could provide them with a good, effective assassin. Does this mean that, in the 2004 film, the villains will be anti-corporatists who temporarily collaborate with a corporation? Somehow I doubt it.)

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Anders   

I think I liked the original Manchurian Candidate a lot more than you did Peter. I think it's one of the best thrillers of its day, and you're spot on in saying that it seems miles ahead of its day. In fact, after the assasination of JFK Sinatra pretty much had the film buried for 30 years because elements of the film seemed to "real."

Angela Lansbury is great in this movie. This was the movie that for me sucessfully broke her free from the "Jessica Fletcher" mold that I had her in. (Recently seeing The Court Jester continued to help me realize that she has had a nicely varied career).

As for the remake, the trailer looks interesting. I think Liev Schreiber is a good actor and its nice to see him getting some more roles. However, I have to say that I'm really going to be a little bit skeptical because I'm such a fan of the original.

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Anders wrote:

: I think it's one of the best thrillers of its day, and you're spot on in saying that it

: seems miles ahead of its day.

Oh, I'm sure it's a great film for its day, and I never shrug off startling prescience if I can help it, but there are still aspects of the film that seem dated to me. For example, at the moment I can't recall a thing about the relationship between Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh, apart from some vague idea that their initial meeting was a bit unrealistic, and apart from some vague idea that it seemed like Leigh's character was put there just because Sinatra needed to have a pretty girlfriend.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Link to new thread on a book about movies in the Kennedy era; the article there is linked to a screening of the original Manchurian Candidate that will take place in Toronto.

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Mark   

I.e., in the 1962 film, the villains were anti-Communists who temporarily collaborated with Communists because they knew the Communists could provide them with a good, effective assassin.

Hmmm, I'm not sure that's the case. It seems to me the right-wing senator and his wife actually were Communists disguised as right-wing patriots, wrapping themselves in the American flag to disguise their true political goals. In that way, I think Frankenheimer was making an overt political statement about how the right wing has a lot in common with brutal Communist regimes.

FWIW, I love this movie and agree with Anders that it's still a superb thriller. Angela Lansbury is still one darn scary mommy-villainess! Granted, some of the dialogue is creaky, and the Janet Leigh character is a throwaway, but I still think it works on most levels. Seems unlikely the Demme version is going to work.

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Okay, I know absolutely NOTHING about this stuff, and I have no idea where it falls on the credibility spectrum or even the political spectrum, but recently, while Googling the title of this film, I came up with this article on Timothy McVeigh, which asserts that he may have been a "Manchurian candidate" of sorts. I was NOT looking for any websites on this particular angle when I Googled the title, but now that I've found one -- actually, there seemed to be quite a few out there -- I cite it here because the new film turns the protagonists into Gulf War veterans, which is also what McVeigh happened to be, and I am wondering if the film will run parallel to existing conspiracy theories or against such theories.

Does anybody here know what existing conspiracy theories ARE current at the moment?

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Well, it's still early in the year, but at this point, I'm "this close" to putting my money on the new Manchurian Candidate to win Best Picture.

And frankly, at this point, I wouldn't make a fuss. I watched the original twice in the last week, and this version is much more heavy-handed, much more sensationalized, and yet in some ways an improvement.

The cast is excellent. Meryl Streep is too over-the-top... where Angela Lansbury's performance was limited to just a few scenes, Demme keeps bringing Streep back to the screen as if trying to ensure the film gets at least one Oscar. But Liev Schreiber deserves a nomination for his excellent performance as a "war hero" who become a Vice Presidential candidate. Denzel is excellent as well, taking the battered, weatherbeaten mode that he used at the beginning of Man on Fire and digging deeper in that direction. Jon Voight is just right in his supporting role as a politician.

VERY SLIGHT spoilers1.gif

(If you've seen the original, there are really no spoilers here. If you haven't seen the original, these spoilers refer to things that happen very early in the movie, and they'll probably be revealed in the previews and reviews anyway...)

Like Minority Report, the film has a rather preposterous sci-fi element that works very well as a metaphor for a current cultural illness... media manipulation. In the first film, there was brainwashing involved. In this one, there are implanted microchips. But it worked for me... even though I know the story, I was on the edge of my seat. And, fortunately, in revising the story they've changed some MAJOR plot points that grabbed my attention and told me that I *really* didn't know where this is going. Demme turns the screws and ratchets up the tension very effectively. It's one of his strongest films.

Rachel Portman's soundtrack is very strong. Tak Fujimoto's cinematography is excellent (he did Silence of the Lambs and Signs, to name just a couple in a long and amazing career.)

The humor in this film is much sharper than in the original. So is the way in which it plays as a cultural commentary. In this Candidate, a conspiracy of foreign nations has been replaced by a conspiracy of super-corporations (the title refers to Manchurian Global, a Halibruton like corporation...) So many of Michael Moore's F9/11 points are repeated here, but they're made as SPECULATIVE FICTION, not as fact, to get us thinking about the current situation and wondering about how much wool has been pulled over our eyes.

The film actually softened my perspective on Moore. I began to feel sorry for the guy who has been told so many lies by the government that, when he gets hold of the tail of a conspiracy, he jumps to the wrong conclusions, but at least he's got the truth by the tail. He may think it's an elephant, when really it's a rhinocerous, but the government's fault is in saying there's no beast there at all, and the truth is... there is.

I don't think F9/11 has what it takes to win Best Picture. It's too direct, too inflammatory, and too discredited. But Manchurian Candidate DOES have everything it needs to win, and I have a gut feeling it will... I'll wait and see how it's received this weekend before I put my "money" on this "horse," but I've got a hunch....

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I'm seeing the film tomorrow, so I haven't read your spoilers, but are you saying Jonathan Demme has his groove back? Has he found his mojo? I've been wondering if I should see Charade and his remake of it, the widely-derided The Truth about Charlie, to get a sense of how Demme's previous remake efforts have turned out, but I won't have time to do that before tomorrow.

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You should definitely see The Truth About Charlie. I liked it. It's a failure, I'll admit, at least as far as being a re-make. But it's whimsical and fun, and I really really love watching Thandie Newton in that role.

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Diane   

Anybody else catch this interview with the cast and director on Dateline NBC? When talk turned to politics, things got really heated and tense, especially right about here:

But lately, it seems the worlds of Hollywood and politics have collided, due in large part to Michael Moore's controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the lengthy list of luminaries who attended that recent fundraiser for Sen. John Kerry. 

Streep: "Oh, I was there."

Couric: "I know you were there. And in fact, I read your quote. You said -- you talked about President Bush and his invocation of religion and you said

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Oh, that's beautiful! "Money's bad," indeed. Agree with him or not, I think it's interesting to see that Denzel, at least, is trying to be consistent with his apparent endorsement of a religious justification for at least certain instances of violence as per Man on Fire.

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Clint M   
Oh, that's beautiful! "Money's bad," indeed. Agree with him or not, I think it's interesting to see that Denzel, at least, is trying to be consistent with his apparent endorsement of a religious justification for at least certain instances of violence as per Man on Fire.

I believe Denzel has said at times that he was a Christian. Interesting collision between Streep and Washington.

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NO REAL SPOILERS IF YOU'VE SEEN THE ORIGINAL FILM

Gosh, Demme likes his facing-directly-into-the-camera alternating close-ups, doesn't he. (I remember finding this rather distracting in Silence of the Lambs, too -- has he used it in any of his other films since then?)

I love how films like this preach on the evils of fearmongering ... while trying to get us to fear the fearmongers (that is, not to fear the people who make the films of course, but to fear the kinds of people the film wants us to associate with the film's characters).

I thought the film made the incestuous thing too obvious, compared to the first film. Streep stroking her son's bare chest was enough of a hint, thankyouverymuch -- we didn't need to see her come in for an actual KISS after that. (Lansbury might have kissed her son too, but there was no foreplay beforehand, IIRC.)

I also think the film makes a big error in having Streep's character AGREE to the manipulation of her son -- in the first film, Lansbury is OUTRAGED that the people she hired to create an assassin gave her her own son, and she promises to destroy those people, once she has achieved her primary objective. I think it is also a big error to have the son be BOTH the vice-presidential candidate AND one of the active assassins -- one might think that that would be a little, um, risky.

The Washington Post wrote:

: "Fahrenheit 9/11" is also remarkably ideology-free. Michael Moore ignores the

: stated neoconservative goal of expanding democracy in the Middle East. Israel

: goes unmentioned. Forget all those times that Paul Wolfowitz has suggested that

: the war in Iraq will have this magical transformative effect on the Arab world. That

: didn't make the cut. Moore's point is, you can't trust a guy who spits on his comb.

Heh.

: The filmmakers have even created a Web site, manchurianglobal.com, filled with

: bland press releases about the company's experiments and its agenda. A fictitious

: CEO is quoted as saying, "Creating one world under skilled management was the

: dream of Alexander the Great. Let's follow him."

Ooooh, that might be worth bringing up when Oliver Stone's Alexander comes out this fall.

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I thought the film made the incestuous thing too obvious, compared to the first film. Streep stroking her son's bare chest was enough of a hint, thankyouverymuch -- we didn't need to see her come in for an actual KISS after that. (Lansbury might have kissed her son too, but there was no foreplay beforehand, IIRC.)

Well... actually, they go farther than THAT, even.

spoilers1.gif

They show her looking up at him in bewilderment for a long moment afterward, and the audience slowly becomes aware that there's more happening... uh... below the frame... that Mr. Shaw is having a rather unmistakeable response to the kiss.

I'm assuming you noticed that too. That was one of the biggest laughs during the screening I saw.

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I thought the film made the incestuous thing too obvious, compared to the first film. Streep stroking her son's bare chest was enough of a hint, thankyouverymuch -- we didn't need to see her come in for an actual KISS after that. (Lansbury might have kissed her son too, but there was no foreplay beforehand, IIRC.)

I have yet to see the new film (the original is one of my favorites), but from what I'm reading it doesn't go to the depths that the novel reveals about the relationship between Raymond and his mother... or, for that matter, what the relationship between Raymond's mother and her own father was. The book is quite shocking in reguards to this storyline.

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Well... actually, they go farther than THAT, even. . . . I'm assuming you noticed

: that too. That was one of the biggest laughs during the screening I saw.

Huh, I remember people laughing, but I don't think either D or I caught that specific allusion.

People also laughed at the scene where the dust comes out of the drill.

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I wrote:

: I love how films like this preach on the evils of fearmongering ... while trying to

: get us to fear the fearmongers . . .

And lest there be any confusion that this is what the filmmakers intend, here's an excerpt from CanWest News Service's coverage of the film:

Indeed, director Jonathan Demme figures he will achieve his purpose if the election-year release of the film on July 30 makes voters even more paranoid about current events than they are all ready.

"There's a lot to be paranoid about today," the 60-year-old filmmaker smiles.

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Oh, incidentally, I love this one sentence from the National Post's review of the film: "Schreiber as the reluctant candidate manages to look thoughtful and blank at the same time, like a man trying to calculate a tip while realizing his dessert didn't go down very well."

Oh, and BTW, I have to echo this other concern: "it's not clear why Marco also has a chip on his shoulder -- literally, I mean -- other than to let him finally notice the scar and dig it out after all these years."

Getting back to the film's sexual subtext, BTW, I have to say there is something about the way a certain character jumps another certain character from behind that, while clearly not meaning anything on the surface in terms of character or plot, certainly seemed like a visual, subtextual hint of some sort.

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I have to say there is something about the way a certain character jumps another certain character from behind that, while clearly not meaning anything on the surface in terms of character or plot, certainly seemed like a visual, subtextual hint of some sort.

??

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You didn't detect any sort of gay-rape subtext in that scene where one man grabs another man from behind and rips his clothes open and bites into his back?

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