The Manchurian Candidate

From Academic Kids

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1959 novel by Richard Condon. It has twice been made into movies of the same name; a celebrated 1962 film directed by John Frankenheimer, and a 2004 film directed by Jonathan Demme.


1962 film

Missing image
Movie poster for The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The premise of the film was that, in the 1950s, the Soviets had developed a technique based on "brainwashing" and akin to hypnosis, whereby a person could be snapped into and out of a trance, ordered to do things with full compliance, and have no memory of such actions afterwards. United States soldiers fighting in the Korean War were thus captured, taken to the People's Republic of China to be brainwashed, then covertly released back to the American forces. To cover their tracks, the Communists would implant false memories in the American soldiers' minds and provide a subconscious trigger whereby the soldier could be snapped into and out of hypnosis. Even after full reintegration with American society, they would have no knowledge of their having been brainwashed or the triggers which set them off.

The movie stars Frank Sinatra (as Major Bennett Marco) and Laurence Harvey (as Sergeant Raymond Shaw) as soldiers who are captured and brainwashed during the Korean War in 1952. Their squad is made to believe Raymond Shaw saved their lives in combat, for which he receives the Congressional Medal of Honor when they return to the States. After the war is over, Marco begins to have a recurring nightmare in which Raymond kills two of his fellow comrades. When he finds out that another Army member has been having the same dream, he sets out to uncover the mystery.

In reality, the Communists intend to use Raymond as a test sleeper agent abroad and, using the queen of diamonds in a deck of ordinary playing cards as a subconscious trigger, compel him to commit heinous crimes, including murder, crimes of which he will have no recollection. It is learned late in the movie that Raymond was, in fact, controlled by his Soviet spy mother (played by Angela Lansbury), who seeks to advance the fortunes of her husband and Raymond's step-father, Senator Joseph Iselin (played by James Gregory), a bombastic McCarthy-like demagogue aiming for the vice-presidential nomination. She uses Raymond to assassinate the main senatorial opponent to Iselin's vice-presidential candidacy and then plans to also have him assassinate the presidential nominee as well. Janet Leigh plays Marco's love interest. The nature of her character has been heavily discussed, with a bizarre conversation on a train between her character and Marco viewed by some as implying that Leigh's character, Eugenie Rose Cheney, was actually working for the Communists to attempt to activate Marco's programming, much as Shaw's had been (a clue supporting this claim is that her name "Eugenie Rose" in French means "red queen.")

Critical response

The film won acclaim for its political themes and the exploration of the connection between the far left and far right in cold war America.

The film is consistently in the top 100 on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films; was #67 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Movies, and #17 on its 100 Years, 100 Thrills; and has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The Kennedy Assassination

Hollywood legend holds that Sinatra removed the film from distribution after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, although there is no evidence to support this. In fact, it appeared as part of the Thursday Night Movies series on CBS in September of 1965 and again later in that television season. It also was shown twice on NBC, once in the spring of 1974 and again in the summer of 1975. Sinatra didn't acquire distribution rights to the Manchurian Candidate until the late 1970's, and was involved in a theatrical re-release of the film in 1988.


Sinatra permanently damaged the little finger on his right hand when he punched through a coffee table during his fight scene with Henry Silva. The table was not supposed to figure into the fight, so a break-away prop was not used--Sinatra accidentally put his hand through a real coffee table. The effect was so dramatic that the shot made it into the final version of the film.

2004 film

See The Manchurian Candidate (2004 movie)

Usage of the term

The term "Manchurian candidate," spawned by the book and later films, refers to an individual who has undergone brainwashing and / or mind control with the intent of creating a "Sleeper" personality within that individual.

A Manchurian candidate has no knowledge of the brainwashing he or she underwent. He or she will behave normally in all situations, until the sleeper is "awakened" by a particular word or phrase. When the candidate encounters this trigger, he or she will perform any action his or her controllers demand, like an assassination. Following the act, the candidate will have no knowledge or recollection of his or her actions, and will return to a normal state until awakened again.

The general scientific consensus is that mind control of the type shown in the film was not possible then, is still not possible, and is not likely to be possible in the near future. See the respective articles for more details.

See also

External links

he:השליח ממנצ'וריה


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