The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film)

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The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 film based on the Conspiracy Thriller novel by Richard Condon, about the son of a prominent political family who has been brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for the Communist Party.

During the Korean War, Captain Bennett Marco and Sergeant Raymond Shaw were part of a platoon that was captured in 1952. They are taken to Manchuria, and are brainwashed to believe that Sgt. Shaw saved their lives in combat for which the Army awards him the Medal of Honor.

Years later Marco, now an intelligence officer, starts suffering from a recurring nightmare about Shaw murdering two of his comrades, all observed by Chinese and Russian officers. When Marco learns that another soldier from the platoon also has been suffering the same nightmare, he sets to uncovering the mystery - and makes a terrifying discovery. Shaw is being used as a sleeper agent for the Communists, programmed as a guiltless assassin, subconsciously activated with a particular trigger - the Queen of Diamonds in a deck of cards. Thus, he is activated, kills the target, and immediately forgets. Shaw's controller is his own mother, who is working with the Communists in order to quietly overthrow the United States government with her Manchurian Candidate. His programming is eventually broken by Marco using a deck of cards entirely composed of the Queen of Diamonds.

The film stars Frank Sinatra as Marco and Laurence Harvey as Shaw. Angela Lansbury plays Shaw's mother Eleanor Iselin. It is a very faithful adaptation of the novel, with much of the dialogue taken straight from the book.

Tropes used in The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film) include:

In addition to the tropes found in the original novel, this film includes:

  • 555: This trope is also in the book, but Rose's number is different in the movie ("Eldorado 5-9970" instead of the book's "Eldorado 9-2632").
  • Abraham Lincoln: A motif in the film. Count the Lincoln portraits, Lincoln busts, Senator Iselin's costume...
  • Catapult Nightmare[context?]
  • Dies Wide Open[context?]
  • Dirty Communists: The ones who do the brainwashing.
  • Hollywood Silencer: On a revolver, no less.
  • Hypno Fool: Shaw obeys a suggestion not even meant for him: "Why don't you go and take yourself a cab and go up to Central Park and go jump in the lake?" This helps him realize that something may be wrong with him.
  • IKEA Weaponry: This film is possibly the Trope Codifier.
  • The Korean War: The opening scene of the film.
  • Manchurian Agent: The Trope Namer.
  • Motive Rant: Angela Lansbury gets off a real corker of a speech.
  • The Neidermeyer: Sgt. Shaw. The fact that everybody in the squad likes him despite him being The Neidermeyer is a major clue that something's going on.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Brit Laurence Harvey in the 1962 film. It helps that his accent kind of works as an FDR-style New York blueblood accent.
  • Playing Gertrude: Angela Lansbury was only 37 years old (three years older than Laurence Harvey) at the time.
  • Power Hair: Shaw's mother.
  • Red China: The bad guys.
  • Rule of Three: The rule of thirds is dramatically averted in the first shot of Janet Leigh. She is presented right in the middle of the frame. It's a bit startling.
  • Satellite Character/Shallow Love Interest: Rosie pops up out of nowhere, helps calm Marco down at a point where the nightmares are really getting to him, and then does absolutely nothing else except fill out some sweaters nicely. The singularly bizarre nature of Rosie's first two conversations with Marco, and the general pointlessness of her character, have led some to speculate that she is a Deep-Cover Agent deliberately sent after Sinatra (see Roger Ebert's review).
  • Spy Speak: The strange rhythms of Marco's conversations with Rosie (see above) led some fans to theorize that they are elaborate codes (and then you start wondering whether Marco is aware of this...)
  • Trigger Phrase: The movie has both a Trigger Phrase ("Why don't you pass the time by playing solitaire?") and a Trigger Card: The Queen of Diamonds.
  • Yellow Peril: Dr. Yen Lo, the sinister brainwasher in the 1962 film. Dr. Lo was played by Keigh Deigh (real name Kenneth Dickerson), an actor of British-Sudanese ancestry, who specialized in playing sinister Asian villains, most notably Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-O.