DVD Review HTF Review: The Manchurian Candidate - Special Edition (Highly Recommended!)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Jul 7, 2004.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]


    The Manchurian Candidate: Special Edition





    Studio: MGM
    Year: 1962
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 127 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.75:1)
    Subtitles: English, French and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; English - “Original” Monaural; Spanish - Monaural




    Release Date:
    July 13th, 2004





    What is The Manchurian Candidate exactly? Is it a political thriller, a satire about the American political system, or perhaps a biting attack on the McCarthy hearings/witch-hunts of the 1950s? There is probably no single right answer, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it is a very entertaining and thought-provoking mixture of all three. Indeed, despite being over four-decades-old, this magnificent adaptation of Richard Condon’s 1959 best seller retains every ounce of the suspense and sense of paranoia that thrilled audiences when it graced the screens of movie houses in 1962.

    Interestingly, although it is still a very effective film, and enjoys widespread acclaim today, The Manchurian Candidate has a rather bizarre history. Originally somewhat far-fetched, the subject matter hit very close to home after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, compelling the filmmakers to put this politically charged thriller on the shelf after its theatrical engagement. This self-imposed ban would last all the way until 1988, when filmgoers were finally able to rediscover and appreciate this true classic!

    The story opens with the capture of a group of American soldiers during the Korean War (1952 to be precise), who are then taken to Manchuria, where they are held captive for several days. During this span of time, they are brainwashed by their captors, and turned unknowingly into participants in an elaborate Communist scheme to gain access to the American political system. Subsequently, they are returned to the front lines, but can remember nothing - except that Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is responsible for saving their lives.

    After their tour of duty ends, and they return to the U.S., Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Shaw’s commanding officer, starts having recurring nightmares, and begins to suspect that something dreadful happened to his platoon during the war. He also worries that Sergeant Shaw may be in grave danger. Thus, due to the disturbing content of his dreams and his concern for Shaw’s safety, Major Marco heads to Washington in an attempt to contact him.

    After snooping around a bit, Bennett unearths a sinister international conspiracy involving the Chinese, the Russians, and even Vice Presidential Candidate/Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), who is really being manipulated like a marionette by Sergeant Shaw’s ruthless mother (Angela Lansbury)! Indeed, when Iselin brazenly accuses the Department of Defense of being filled with card-carrying Communists, he is fed details for his speech from his domineering wife, who has an unquenchable thirst for power.

    Simultaneously, another member of the ill-fated platoon, Corporal Alvin Melvin (James Edwards), begins having nightmares very similar to those being experienced by Major Marco. He also tries contacting Sergeant Shaw, but only by mail. When Shaw receives Alvin’s letter, he begins reading it, but gets interrupted (what perfect timing!) by a phone call. Speaking slowly, the mysterious caller asks Shaw to “…pass the time by playing a little solitaire”, and when Shaw complies, he fall into a trance-like state upon turning over the Queen of Diamonds. Now extremely susceptible to suggestion, all Shaw needs are his orders…and whatever dastardly deed he has been programmed to do will be underway!

    You see, unbeknownst to either Marco or Melvin, Sergeant Shaw, who is to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving the platoon, has actually been programmed to be the perfect assassin. How perfect, you ask? Well, in addition to his military training, he is rendered unable to resist the orders of those that have brainwashed him, unable to remember his orders or actions, and incapable of feeling guilt. The advantage of these induced memory lapses and altered mental states is that he would not implicate himself after taking out his target. More importantly for those who would command him, as the stepson to Senator Iselin, he is in a position that could place him in very close proximity to high-value targets.

    Of course, there is much more to this complex story, but to elaborate any further would detract from the many unexpected plot twists and diminish the film’s impact for those who have not yet seen this masterpiece. Since I have no wish to do so, I will stop right there! Suffice it to say that Major Marco is left tying to piece the puzzle together, with a little help from the stunningly beautiful Eugenie Rose Chaney (Janet Leigh). The question is: Can he do it before Shaw is able to carry out his deadly mission?

    As I inferred in the opening paragraph, viewing The Manchurian Candidate over forty years after its initial release, I was astonished to find that it has aged very well – probably better than most films from the era. This is for a variety of reasons, notably how well the elements of satire and political intrigue are handled, the wonderful cinematography, and the terrific acting by the entire cast, especially “The Chairman of the Board”. A great adaptation of Richard Condon’s book, the screenplay was also very well written and planned out, highlighted by some excellent plot twists and a truly riveting climax.

    Another strength of Frankenheimer’s film is how effectively it proposes that the American political machine of the McCarthy era robbed citizens of the very freedoms the Constitution is supposed to protect, under the guise of rooting out Communist sympathizers. It does so by trumping up Americans’ fears of Communists, and taking all the stereotypes associated with them to the extreme. This also plays a part in helping The Manchurian Candidate remain taut and suspenseful, as it generates an atmosphere of tangible paranoia and confusion consistent with that of the 1950s.

    Sadly, during this time, people fearful of the “commies” were whipped into a greater frenzy by people like Senator Joe McCarthy, and really took the stereotypes presented to them to heart. Screenwriter George Axelrod and director John Frankenheimer had a clear understanding of this mass paranoia, and crafted a superbly entertaining political thriller based on these generally unfounded fears of Communism. The end result of their understanding is a very poignant and intelligent film that successfully intertwines the best elements of satire, social commentary, and even crime thrillers. There is even a little romance thrown in for good measure, thanks to Janet Leigh’s character!

    For all of these reasons, I believe The Manchurian Candidate is among the best films ever made, and extremely deserving of its spot (#67) on the AFI Top 100 Films list! Even with the considerable talents of stars Denzel Washnigton and Meryl Streep, Jonathan Demme is going to be hard pressed to do justice to this classic with his upcoming “update”!






    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    In its previous incarnation on DVD, the transfer of The Manchurian Candidate was non-anamorphic. Fortunately, that has been remedied, and the film has now been given a glorious anamorphic widescreen (1.75:1) presentation! As a result, the monochromatic cinematography looks razor-sharp, with excellent black levels, plenty of shadow detail, and a nicely balanced contrast.

    The delicate, well-rendered grayscale also allows for the gradations in clothing, skin tones, and backgrounds to be evident. Better still, I noticed no evidence of edge-enhancement halos, and fine detail extends into the background of scenes as well. The image also boasts an outstanding sense of depth and texture, and there is no evidence of compression artifacts that I could see.

    The print still does contain a moderate amount of grain, which is most visible during very dark scenes. This can be a minor distraction in a few scenes (e.g. the opening to Chapter 5), but despite for the most part, the image is cleaner than one would expect from a film that is over four decades old! Really, this new transfer offers an extremely film-like presentation befitting of a true classic, and is a large enough step-up in image quality from the previous DVD to recommend purchasing it on that basis alone!




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    New to this “Special Edition” of The Manchurian Candidate is a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack. Granted, a surround track artificially created from a 42-year-old monaural source generally does not yield a mind-blowing sound experience, but I was still impressed by both the final result and by the few interesting chances taken with this new mix. Though there is not an abundance of surround effects, a great example of such a chance can be drawn from the “hydrangea” monologue, where voices are panned around the soundstage! At the very beginning of the film, the rear channels are also used to recreate the sounds of machine gun fire.

    More importantly, dialogue, which is presented quite nicely on the original monaural track (which is also included), sounds slightly warmer and more vibrant in the new surround mix. The film’s score also exhibits a smooth, natural tonality, and also seems to have a slightly more open and “airy” quality in 5.1 than it does in mono. Unfortunately, although sound effects are slightly better sounding than on the original monaural track, they still sound dated and less rich than the vocals and music.

    Finally, there is precious little information that is peculiar to the LFE channel, but outside of a few sound effects, it is not in the source material, so I cannot complain about that. Therefore, in consideration of all these things, I cannot say the new mix provided for The Manchurian Candidate is a particularly dynamic aural experience, but I do believe it opens things up enough to add an interesting new element to the film’s soundtrack. Good job!




    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    Audio Commentary
    As passionate a director as John Frankenheimer was, he turns out to be a somewhat disappointing commentator! Why, pray tell? Well, aside from speaking in an extremely subdued manner, Frankenheimer is silent for large sections of the feature, so the commentary slowly became an exercise in boredom for me.

    This really is too bad, because when he does speak, Frankenheimer offers some truly fascinating insight into this highly regarded film! He also throws in a couple of amusing anecdotes (listen for the one about how his film was “edited” by a Greek projector operator!). Here are some of the high points:

    --- The revelation that every major film studio turned down the film, so George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer were able to acquire the rights to Richard Condon’s book fairly easily (and inexpensively).

    --- A description of how the press conference was put together, and the many ad-libs that occurred during that particular sequence.

    --- A little insight into the dream sequences that Marco and Melvin suffer through.

    --- Comments on the orchestration of the “karate fight” between Frank Sinatra and Henry Silva.

    Unfortunately, Frankenheimer speaks so infrequently that these high points in the commentary are just too few and far between. Indeed, in many cases, several minutes pass between comments, which were often brief and follows by another pause. Obviously, this became frustrating after a while. Still, if you like the film (and can deal with these significant breaks between comments), this track does contain enough insightful information to make it worth a listen…once!


    Interview with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod, and John Frankenheimer
    During this brief (nearly 8-minute) archival interview, from 1988, Sinatra, Axelrod, and Frankenheimer discuss various topics, including their effort to remain faithful to the book, how Sinatra inadvertently helped Axelrod push past the first 20 pages of the script, and the fact that The Manchurian Candidate was the first “Hollywood film” to feature a karate fight (which resulted in an injury to Ol’ Blue Eyes).

    Quite frankly, this interview, which seems to be a holdover from the previous DVD release of The Manchurian Candidate, is somewhat bland. It is also redundant, if you’ve listened to the commentary. On the other hand, since none of the trio is around anymore, there will be no opportunity to get them together for a new retrospective. For completion’s sake, at least, it is nice to have the interview included.


    Queen of Diamonds
    “Queen” is a new interview (commingled with scenes from the film) with Angela Lansbury, who talks about her experiences during the production of The Manchurian Candidate. Over the course of roughly 15 minutes, Lansbury chats about some interesting things, like how she was cast in the film, John Frankenheimer’s passionate directorial style, and the significant part Frank Sinatra played in getting the film made.

    She also opines on the quality of the performances by her co-stars, and finally wraps up by offering her thoughts on why the picture was removed from circulation between 1963 and 1988. All in all, it is a rather informative and interesting interview, but I think it is hindered a little bit by the multitude of scenes from the film that play between (and during) her comments.


    A Little Solitaire
    Like “Queen of Diamonds”, this featurette consists of a new interview with talented filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist), a friend of Frankenheimer’s who provides his assessment of The Manchurian Candidate. Over the course of the interview (approximately 13 minutes), Mr. Friedkin also discusses John Frankenheimer’s gift for giving his films a realistic, documentary-like visual style, Frank Sinatra’s love for spontaneity (apparently, Frank would usually not do second takes), how faithful the filmmakers were to Richard Condon’s book, and how effective all the performers were.

    As always, Friedkin was energetic and insightful, making this featurette well worth the small amount of time required to take it in!


    Photo Gallery
    A total of 57 behind-the-scenes photographs (in black-and-white) are available for perusal. The photos are from five categories: The Filmmakers, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury.


    Easter Eggs

    --- “How to Get Shot”
    This Easter egg features a brief excerpt from Lansbury’s interview, where she discusses the impact a bullet fired from a hunting rifle would theoretically have on the human body. To access it, highlight “Other MGM Releases” on page 2 of the Special Features Menu, and press right.

    --- “Phone Call”
    This Easter egg is a very brief outtake from William Friedkin’s interview, consisting of a quip he makes when the interview gets interrupted by a phone call. To find it, highlight “Interview” on Page 1 of the Special Features Menu, and press up.


    Insert
    An 8-page insert, featuring some insight into the film’s casting process, a quote from John Frankenheimer, chapter stops, and photos is included.


    Trailer and Promotional Materials
    The original, black-and-white theatrical trailer for The Manchurian Candidate is included, as are:

    --- An “MGM Means Great Movies” Promo
    --- An “Other Great Academy Award® Winners” Promo
    --- Cover Art for: Out of Time, Ronin, and No Way Out



    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    The Manchurian Candidate is a terrific political thriller/satire, well scripted by George Axelrod, superbly directed by John Frankenheimer, and featuring splendid performances by Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury! This poignant and thought-provoking film was also shot in a very interesting and realistic manner, which served to influence many other filmmakers. For these reasons, among others, this great film sits firmly in 67th place on the AFI’s Top 100 Films list!!!

    Moving on to the DVD, I can safely say that John Frankenheimer’s masterpiece has finally been given the “Special Edition” treatment that it so richly deserves! Specifically, the disc features a new and much improved transfer, a fine re-mix of the sound track, and some interesting new interviews with Angela Lansbury and William Friedkin. The remaining extras – the commentary, archival interview, and trailer – have been ported over from the previous release, and are simply not that great.

    On the whole, however, the improvements in the A/V departments, which needed to be addressed, easily overshadow the mediocrity of the “older” extras. Bottom line - if you value this truly great film, this is the version you will want to own! And for only $14.95 list, how can anyone resist passing the time with a little solitaire? [​IMG]

    Highly Recommended!!!


    Stay tuned…
     
  2. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    I agree Jason, the new transfer looks outstanding and worth the double dip; see MGM, you can do it when you have a mind to...
     
  3. Ed Moroughan

    Ed Moroughan Second Unit

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    Very good review. Sounds like a street date buy for me.
     
  4. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    Thank you Jason, for your stellar review. One of my most anticipated this year and in my top ten of all time.
     
  5. josh4040

    josh4040 Second Unit

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    I agree with Zen, this movie is in my top ten, I traded my old copy in the week I heard this was being rereleased, and I will be at best buy when they open on tuesday. Thanks for the great review.
     
  6. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Screenwriter

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    This is one of my top 10 all time favorite films, so this is a must-have for me.
     
  7. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    This is not entirely correct. The film was withdrawn from theatrical distribution because of a financial dispute between Sinatra and United Artists (it played tv regularly until the early 70s).

    Great review - can't wait to pick it up.
     
  8. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    Peter, I was going to ask about this. I've heard the same "the subject matter hit very close to home after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, compelling the filmmakers to put this politically charged thriller on the shelf after its theatrical engagement." When one of its' theatrical re-releases(1992?), I vaguely remember the advertising using something similar to what I have put in quotations. Anywhere to find the facts on the true events?
     
  9. David Allen

    David Allen Stunt Coordinator

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    Trailer and Promotional Materials
    The original, black-and-white theatrical trailer for The Manchurian Candidate is included, as are:

    --- An “MGM Means Great Movies” Promo
    --- An “Other Great Academy Award® Winners” Promo
    --- Cover Art for: Out of Time, Ronin, and No Way Out


    Does this mean that "No Way Out" is getting a new DVD release?
     
  10. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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  11. Deepak Shenoy

    Deepak Shenoy Supporting Actor

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    As much as I hate modern remakes of classic films, this is one of the good things that come out of them - the original gets re-released in a better edition. I can't wait to pick this one up on Tuesday.

    -D
     
  12. Greg_D_R

    Greg_D_R Stunt Coordinator

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    I rented this on VHS back in the day, and enjoyed it quite a bit, but haven't seen it since. Looks like it's time to pick up the dvd.
     
  13. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    Another keeper for me.
     
  14. Matt Czyz

    Matt Czyz Supporting Actor

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    ...and it's so cheap, too! Purchased!
     
  15. Daniel Bell

    Daniel Bell Auditioning

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    I will buy this on the day it comes out. I have the old version. But I'm glad it's being updated for anamorphic,audio and the new extras. Fantastic movie!
     
  16. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    Too bad MGM didn't port to DVD its isolated musical track from the laser disc, as the score is not commercially available.
     
  17. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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  18. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    I can't believe no one has commented on the wonderful performance by Jessica Fletch...er Angela Lansbury. Oooh, was she a baddie in this film.
     
  19. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Lansbury was a great "baddie" in many films. One that comes to mind is the delightful "World Of Henry Orient". An interesting fact is that Lansbury was in real life just a year or two older then her "son" Harvey!
     
  20. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Condon's novel is a riveting read too; with such good source material, a brilliant director and an excellent cast, they could hardly gp too far wrong.
     

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