Saturday, September 27, 2008

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (John Frankenheimer, 1962, USA) “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Major Marco and another member of the platoon are savaged by the same vicious nightmare after their return from Korea. Sgt. Shaw is awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor for acts of extreme bravery but their terrible dream contradicts this fact. In reality, they are the victims of brainwashing, their minds scrubbed clean and reprogrammed with new memories, and Raymond Shaw is made into a machine of flesh and bone that can murder without guilt or remorse. As Marco begins to unravel the mystery he must get close to Shaw and find the key to unlock the secret, he must cut the wires and pull the plug before Shaw carries out the Communist coup-de-tat. But the truly diabolical nemesis is Shaw’s mother, Eleanor Iselin who is despicably portrayed by Angela Lansbury: this is one of the most villainous characters in film history! Director John Frankenheimer films in deep focus and medium shot, which heightens the frightening reality: from the Korean battlefield to Madison Square Garden. His sweaty close-ups make the tension palpable as the plot progresses to its unforgettable and violent conclusion. The nightmare sequence utilizes a 180-degree camera arc that doesn’t contain a single edit: from the bored soldiers and the flowery old ladies to the Communist leaders discussing their sinister plan. This is one of my all-time favorite sequences in film history! He then cuts from various perspectives to create a surreal dreamlike quality to the proceedings. When Raymond Shaw murders the two soldiers with a gentle “yes, mam” it is truly chilling. The plot builds slowly revealing Raymond Shaw’s cold detached character and his hatred for his mother and stepfather, which will contrast with the only empathetic connection he ever makes with Jocelyn. A minor plot involves Marco’s love interest with Rose whom I think is a Russian agent. Her taut dialogue with Marco in his depressed mental state is almost hypnotizing, her name shadows the “flower sequence”, and she seems to serve no other purpose to the narrative. Marco helps to free Raymond from his mental bondage but it’s Shaw’s realization that he was made to murder Jocelyn and her father that truly sets him free. The Queen of Diamonds destroys Raymond’s mind but his soul is redeemed by his eternal love for Jocelyn, his Queen of Hearts. With two gunshots, he finally earns his Congressional Medal of Honor…the third breaks your heart. (A+)

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