The Manchurian Candidate

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Read Andrew Robertson's film review of The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate
"" | Photo: Criterion Collection

A relatively streamlined DVD release, it has the original theatrical trailer, an an interview with Sinatra, George Axelrod, and John Frankenheimer, and Frankenheimer's director's commentary. There's eleven languages in the subtitles, as well as additional hard of hearing captions. There are also three additional soundtrack options.

That commentary is enlightening. It starts with an early exhortation: "the important thing to remember about this movie is it was turned down by every studio in Hollywood". There's excellent insight into the mechanisms of film-making, great discussion of lenses, focus, rehearsal. All this becomes even more compelling given the impact of one particular scene and its blurring. It's possibly one of the happiest accidents in cinema, at least excluding any involving Jackass or Jackie Chan.

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Frankenheimer is able to explain where scenes originated, particularly entertaining when partnered with the origin of one of Iselin's numbers. He's particularly interesting talking about Sinatra as an actor. It's not that Sinatra didn't like to do additional takes, it was that he was best on the first take. It's hard to say how much of that came from his experience on stage, of doing things live. There were rehearsals aplenty, but some combination of adrenaline and anticipation worked magic. There's also a great line about "these days you'd call it an homage, back then I'd have called it a rip-off". I paraphrase, but you could call it an homage.

"Those days" are roughly 2000, from the MGM DVD. The film was produced by Frankenheimer and Sinatra, "released thru [sic] United Artists", but the vagaries of film studios involve at least as much chicanery as depicted.

There's an even older interview included with Axelrod, Frankenheimer and Sinatra. Interview might be generous, it's heavily edited conversation between three older men. From the late Eighties the exuberant padding on it nearly doubles its length to shy of ten minutes. It's nice to see them getting along, but it doesn't add much. It also feels like it's been heavily reduced from a longer get together. In comparison to the trailer and commentary it adds even less.

The original theatrical trailer features a succession of scenes out of order with "if you come in five minutes after this picture begins you won't know what it's about! after you've seen it you'll swear there's never been anything like it!". A giddy stringy sound skitters over a succession of orchestral bombast that with drum and horn almost seems like the threat of Godzilla. It's not a bad trailer - even knowing the plot of the film it doesn't give anything away directly - but it's amusing in part because it's not true. The film gives you enough on the way to catch you up, and sixty years on "this is where we came in" isn't how cinemas work.

The DVD cover has Angela Lansbury, Sinatra and Laurence Harvey on it, but it's Janet Leigh and those two men who are credited. The back, less strangely, says "if ever a film deserved to be seen again, this is it!", and it's not wrong.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2022
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The Manchurian Candidate packshot
An American PoW in the Korean War is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy.

Product Code: B01I08D23U

Region: 0

Extras: Commentary; interview with Axelrod, Frankenheimer, and Sinatra; theatrical trailer

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