The Manchurian Candidate
Book by Richard Condon, 1959; first film adaptation by John Frankenheimer, 1962
Xenophobia and paranoia are not new in the U.S.A. and nothing better illustrates these phenomena than our bouts with Red Scares. Back in the not-as-halcyon fifties as people like to nostalgically remember them, Joe McCarthy jumped on the fright bandwagon, pulled claims of Communist infiltrators out of the ethers, ruined many lives, and then consumed himself into alcoholic oblivion.
Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate is a product of those times and our infatuation with scaring the hell out of ourselves. It’s a simple story built around our fear of a wily enemy so resourceful, so powerful, so godless, that they can penetrate our minds and turn us against the moral teachings of American civics and our righteous Christian God.
The book and film best exemplify this in the early scenes when brainwashed Shaw (Laurence Harvey) casually murders two of his comrades upon command. Then there’s the brainwashing mastermind Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dheigh), jolly like Santa, diabolical like the devil, a Janus in that he fights capitalism and relishes it at the same time, a cynic designed to boil your good old American blood.
We also have a cadre of oblivious government officials who, at first, will not give Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) the time of day; in other words, Americans blind to the danger in their midst that in the beginning only he can detect.
Finally, for good measure, there’s Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and Sen. Iselin (James Gregory), rabid anti-Commies, so power-hungry they will sell out the U.S.A. to our enemies. It’s Mrs. Iselin who serves as Shaw’s controller.
Needless to say that everybody wakes up in the end to thwart the dastardly plan of the ruthless Commies and Iselins, and just the way we like it: in a hail of gunfire.
So, if you’re casting about for a movie tonight or for the weekend, or if you’re feeling a tad bit paranoid about world events, The Manchurian Candidate is the book and film for you, to hone your nightmares to a fine point of hysteria. w/c