When it comes to political thrillers, The Manchurian Candidate is as solid and tense as it gets. The 1962 film stars Frank Sinatra as a Korean war vet who is troubled by a nightmare in which he and his fellow soldiers are brainwashed by the Koreans. (Including the always marvelous Khigh Dhiegh.) Afraid that his nightmares might actually be memories, he digs a little deeper and finds that his pal Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is behaving strangely and that leads him to an assassination plot and a very unlikely puppet master.
At the time of the filming, Frank Sinatra was close friends with President John F. Kennedy and it was Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the project that convinced him to take on the roll. The relationship between the two men was fodder for rumors that Sinatra pulled The Manchurian Candidate off the shelves in response to Kennedy’s assassination because of the similarities between the movie and the actual events. Other reports say that the movie’s disappearing act was purely coincidental, but there’s no denying that much of what is in the movie fits the conspiracy theories that popped up after Kennedy’s death.
As for this new Blu-ray release, it’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the film transfer is excellent. This is a black and white movie, very dark (both literally and figuratively) and this new transfer is sharp with the blackest of blacks. There’s also an updated audio track, but since this isn’t a “bam” “pow” action movie, there isn’t much point.
The Blu-ray comes with a short list of features, but as far as I can see, they’ve all been brought over from the earlier DVD of the film. The commentary by John Frankenheimer is worth listening to. There’s also a 1988 interview with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer which gives you insight into how the film came about. The quality is poor but it’s a piece of history, so it’s good to have.
There are also a few features that look like they were made specifically for the DVD release, two with Angela Lansbury where she talks about her work on the movie and specifically about a particular moment which I don’t want to spoil. Also included is a short interview with William Friedkin giving his thoughts on the film. You’ll also find the theatrical trailer, but for such a classic movie, it’s a shame there isn’t more.
The most perplexing thing about this Blu-ray release is the lack of a navigational opening screen. When you put in the disc, it begins playing the movie and you have to use the pop-up menu to access the special features. Why? If there were no special features, I can see rolling right into the film, but it’s annoying to see the movie playing while you’re searching for settings or the proper featurette.
The bottom line is, if you own this movie on DVD, don’t bother with this upgrade unless you can get a really great deal on it. If you’ve never seen the movie, then go ahead and pick it up. It retails for $44.95, but you can get it for under $15.00 on Amazon.
One word of warning, don’t plan on reading, texting or surfing the web while you watch. The Manchurian Candidate is full of tricky twists and intentionally confusing imagery, so be sure to give it your complete attention. And while you’re waiting for the movie to arrive, why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire.