President's Day: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
When the election results came in, a downfall was inevitable. But have we heeded the warning about how low America would find itself heading? There were many films that approached these political waters about the relationships between parties from Hollywood during the 1960’s, but one warning that stands above all comes in the form of none other than John Frankenheimer’s 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate. It’s a common association nowadays with dystopian or satirical fiction (this particular film falling under the latter) being compared to the Trump presidency that America is going through for now, but it runs in the veins of The Manchurian Candidate why such films have only become all the more relevant.
The film’s setting amidst the Korean War is one among many things that gets the film’s paranoid nature set in stone, but there’s a clear parallel that feels so frighteningly true within today’s world in correlation with America and their relationship with Islamic nations. But that’s not the least of where many parallels between what’s happening in the film and in current day are coming about. It was always present when you look at what extremes are put at odds with one another, but as we watch the film going from Frank Sinatra’s perspective, it becomes even clearer how there is yet another battle being fought at large.
Said battle is not out on the fields, but rather, on the homeland where we see recovering soldier Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) coming fresh off his Medal of Honor. The medal in itself embodies an all-American quality to it, but Raymond follows nothing but a perceived notion of this “American way.” One of the prime influences into what Raymond sees comes from his mother Mrs. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), as she helps in driving the political career of her own husband. The image that she carries all throughout is a domineering one, for she controls everything her son Raymond sees down to the point of brainwashing him.
Raymond Shaw is only a pawn to this game in the same manner that Frank Sinatra’s Bennett Marco is, but we also have Eleanor Iselin being queen to Senator John Iselin (James Gregory) who is extremely conservative in terms of his political leaning, but his wife is indeed a Communist agent who wants to take over the United States government. The fight here is a clear one at hand, extremists intending to conquer the nation, as they give more power to only their people and no one else. However, the dominance of one belief over another and what means they go through to have their way is increasingly relevant to the times we're living in.
We are living within a time in which a single image is painted for an opposing side and thus it results in the meaningless and petty debates some people get themselves into. But where it plays in with how The Manchurian Candidate has remained so clever is because we are looking at the film from Bennett Marco’s eyes and all he wants is to find someone who can represent a voice of reason, in an era where paranoia is running rampant. This is the root of all the most suspenseful sequences in The Manchurian Candidate; we never know how everything will turn out afterwards even if the film has reached its conclusion.
On another level, it’s amazing to me how something can be so hard-edged with its satire during the time of its own release, as it came out amidst the Cuban Missile crisis. John Frankenheimer created one of the great political thrillers of the time, but the fact that this sense of paranoia is still ringing persistent is where something of greater glory has come about. But I’m not one to think “glory” would be the best word given the current state of things and how the film’s relevance has only grown stronger. The most frightening thing about The Manchurian Candidate is the fact that we have now come to recognize it as a way to describe our current world, from over a half-century ago.