Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Manchurian Candidate

 The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

     “The Manchurian Candidate” was released on October 24, 1962 and was directed by John Frankenheimer. It was based off the political thriller novel written by Richard Condon in 1959. Frankenheimer originally worked for CBS and was and still is an admired director. He is most famous for being a founding father of the genre “political thriller” which “The Manchurian Candidate” fits into. The movie had a budget of $2.2 million and made $7.7 million in the box office. Both critics and the audience really enjoyed the movie and said it was rather inventive for its time. The movie however stopped distribution in 1963 after the assassination of JFK. It was thought the movie would parallel too closely to the assassination and so the movie stopped distribution. It was rereleased in 1988 and it was said that the movie had stopped distribution originally not because of JFK, but simply because there was not enough interest in the movie anymore. It was nominated for two Oscars including best supporting actress for Angela Lansbury. The plot of the movie focuses on Raymond Shaw who has been brainwashed by communist leaders to do as they say. Major Marco Bennett is the one who is trying to figure out what is wrong with Raymond and how to fix him before it is too late. The movie progresses and ends with the viewer finding out that Raymond’s mom is actually working for the communist leaders and has brainwashed him to try and assassinate the president. Raymond resists the brainwashing though through help from Major Marco and instead kills his mother and step father (who is the newly elected Vice President of the USA) during the president’s commencement speech.
     There seemed to be two main messages within the Manchurian Candidate. The first message offered an Anti-Communist interpretation that warned viewers of the intense threat of Communists abroad and at home. This Anti-Communist rhetoric appeared in the film through the communist brainwashing of American troops and the threat of Communist infiltration in the United States government. However, in the end, the film demonstrated the traditional idea that Americans will always defeat Communism, despite intense challenges. The second main message contrasted with the traditional Anti-Communist view by criticizing McCarthyism and his fear mongering tactics within American politics. This theme developed through the character of Senator Iselin and his wife, who both openly accused politicians of being Communists, while secretly working with Communist forces. Senator Iselin’s hypocrisy highlights the corruption of McCarthy who used fear to gain power and status. Overall, these themes present the idea that Americans cannot be certain about the identity of their enemies and must be wary of extremist Anti-Communism. For instance, in the film, a decorated war veteran was a communist-brainwashed assassin and an extreme Anti-Communist politician was a Communist ally. The Manchurian Candidate created a complex depiction of the Cold War by presenting traditional Anti-Communist ideas along with criticisms of McCarthyism.
     After having shown our brief yet powerful film clip, which most efficiently highlighted Angela Lansbury’s character, Mrs. Iselin’s, cunning evil plot to assassinate the newly inaugurated president, we then resolved to conclude our presentation by connecting the Manchurian Candidate’s content with that which we had already and would be continuing to learn in class. In attempting to underscore the strong ties to thematic elements of this course thus far, we asserted four major parallels. First of all, the principal setting of the film in 1953, just following the conclusion of the Korean War at a time when the ‘Red Scare’ within the United States was running rampant, was significant. The fact that, although it ultimately was not those who were suspected of it or condemned by figureheads, there legitimately did exist a grave communist threat within our country seemed to almost retrospectively legitimize the Korean conflict, which, widely viewed as a overwhelming failure, is our current focus of study. Next, we observed a very direct parallel to our studies via the debilitating and pervasive sense of paranoia and fear surrounding communism and perceived communists within the movie, which was spurred on by the figurehead with a list of “confirmed communists,” Senator Iselin – a clear allegory of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Furthermore, we also noted the presence of a dual system of key stereotypes that was present and which flawlessly perfected what both the American Capitalists and Soviet Communists thought of the other entity. The Communists proclaim that “guilt and fear” are uniquely ‘American’ weaknesses, while it is abundantly clear that Raymond’s mother fulfills another stereotype in that she is a ‘bad’ mother who has ‘bred a communist’. Finally, we felt that this film and its underlying motif closely corresponded with other films and perspectives of the era. Despite the fact that the film seems to portray an interesting, clashing dynamic by offering both a strong critique of McCarthyism and foolish, fear-driven sensationalist American behavior as well as a warning that there really might be dangerous communists amongst us, it very much struck us as in-line with other similar films of the day. For the discussion-based conclusion to our presentation, we asked, “Given what we have already learned about McCarthy, specifically his political trajectory, what does the film’s direct criticism of Senator Iselin say about the changing political environment of the 1960s?” After providing some additional context in terms of McCarthy’s censure by the Senate in 1954 and then death afterwards in 1957, with some audience participation, we discussed how, though not yet in an overly progressive or open era, by 1963 most Americans had long come to reject McCarthy and his ideas and had moved on to a more cautiously objective, less hysterical suspicion of communism in America. In the end, we discussed just a bit further the potential reasons for the film’s removal from distribution in 1963, which, we concluded, almost assuredly had to do with President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and a desire to not incite any sort of controversy in an already charged U.S. domestic environment.

- Dirks, Tim. "The Manchurian Candidate (1962)." Filmsite Movie Reviews. AMC, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.
- IMDb. "The Manchurian Candidate." IMDb., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

By Kevin Kerr, Sara O'Toole, Joshua Brain

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956

David Leftwich, Andrew O'Brien, Kerry Long
David Leftwich
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a film directed by Don Siegel, its screenplay written by Daniel Mainwaring, and produced by Walter Mirisch. The original budget was cut by $100,000 dollars, so the intended leads were not cast. Instead, Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter were cast as the movie’s leads. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was based off of the book The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The film made a lot of money in the U.S. but the critics ignored the it. The moved starts with the main character, Dr. Miles Bennett, retelling a flashback while in prison. It begins with Miles returning home to Santa Mira California to a strange sickness. Copies of people are being made and replacing the old versions while they sleep, but these new versions are emotionless. Miles and his love interest Becky try and stop this to no avail. Then, they realize the people are being made from “egg sacs” and are being brought in by truck loads. They both try and escape, but Becky falls asleep and becomes one of the copies. Miles escapes and then is arrested. The flashback ends and Miles’s captors realize their town is doomed. Invasion of the Body Snatchers innovated film because it created a hybrid category of horror and science fiction. It became a revered movie after its time and was Selected to the National Film Registry. It’s also in the library of congress for cultural significance. To some, it is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever.


"Invasion of the Body Snatchers." IMDb., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Rowsey, Daniel S. "From Santa Mira to South Africa." JGCinema. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Stafford, Jeff. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Turner Classic Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, similar to On the Waterfront, reflects the political climate of the time. While On the Waterfront displays the director’s personal battle against being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is more of a commentary on the widespread fears sweeping the country.  Jack Finney, who wrote the original screenplay, depicts the infecting individuals as emotionless zombies devoid of human characteristics. This can be seen as the common perception of communists being devoid of faith and basic human emotion.  Additionally, the invasion that sweeps the country can interpreted as communist dogma spreading throughout the world as well as McCarthyism fear mongering taking hold of the country. Finally, the movie warns against the dangers of group thinking and how easily populations can be swept up in mass hysteria. This can be a direct parallel to how American’s were enthralled by the Red Scare and quick to accusations due to the fear of sticking out from the crowd.
           I posed the question to the class whether or not they believed the film was supposed to be a commentary on the dangers of communism or a metaphor for the Red Scare and McCarthyism. The reactions of the class surprised me. They believed that the movie was more of a metaphor about the lack of individuality during the 1950s. One classmate believed it was meant to reveal how during the 50s American’s were less concerned about their individuality but more about being the image of a proper citizen. It can be argued however, that this mentality was borne out of McCarthyism. Individuals who opposed the status quo or attempted to fight back were targeted and ultimately blacklisted from society.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)." Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Filmsite Movie Review, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.
Zasadny, Virginia. "Cold War Propaganda or Clever Satire?" Cold War Propaganda or Clever Satire? University of West Florida, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

           Invasion of the Body Snatchers has several important themes. The pod people are forcing conformity upon everyone in the town, and they tell the protagonist that their state of being is preferable to the unstable, emotional nature of humanity. Before the pods are discovered, the medical explanation is that some people have been cracking a bit under the pressure that international tensions with the Communists has put on them all. The alien pods and the pod people, of course, are a metaphor for the very same Communists, and so it adds another layer of depth to this sci-fi / horror story. Invasion quite literally dehumanizes the Communists by portraying them as alien organisms. The state of emotionally detached equality that the pod people experience runs parallel to the state of economic equality that is communism’s ultimate goal. Delving one level deeper into the analogy, it follows that when the main character and his lover tell the aliens that they “want no part” in their scheme, they are saying they prefer ups and downs (capitalism) to a flatline (communism). The mass hysteria in the beginning can be seen as an allegory for McCarthyism, and the mysterious, deadly alien pods relate to nuclear war.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On The Waterfront

Drew Cantor, John Grzegorzewski, Sean Krieger

On The Waterfront

This was a relatively low budget Hollywood film produced by Columbia Pictures. It had a budget of 1 million dollars and then grossed 10 million dollars. The movie was filmed in just 36 days and did not experience any major obstacles during its production. The film stars Marlon Brando as Terry, an ex prize fighter who now works as a longshoreman. Mob Affiliated Union boss, John Friendly, corruptly runs the docks of New York City and New Jersey with an iron fist. Terry’s brother, Charlie, is Friendly’s right hand man and allows Terry to have special privileges. Friendly gets Terry to set up a murder, by telling Terry that they’re only going to pressure a young longshoreman, Joey, into not testifying in court. After the mobsters kill joey, Terry feels betrayed. He eventually meets Joey’s sister Edie, played by Eva Marie Saint, and is put in a dilemma. He does not know whether to say silent about the murder or whether to “rat” the mobsters out in court. After seeing more corruption on the waterfront and some convincing by Edie and his priest, Terry decides to testify. After he testifies against friendly, Terry is declared a dead man who will never find work on the waterfront. Terry defies this and still shows up for work. After being the only man denied work, he fights friendly but is then jumped by his thugs. The other workers get behind terry and say they don’t work unless he does. The movie ends with terry leading the other workers into a warehouse to work.
The film was nominated for 12 academy awards and ended up winning eight of those. Brando won best actor and in her debut film, Eva Marie Saint won best supporting actress. In 1997 it was ranked the eighth greatest American film ever by the American Film Institute. The film is based on New York Sun’s reporter Malcolm Johnson’s series Crime on the Waterfront. Elia Kazan directed the movie. Bud Schulburg wrote the movie after Kazan’s original choice, Arthur Miller backed out due to Kazan’s involvement with HUAC. The film was very innovative for its time. Brando and the other actors were some of the very first method actors. Method actors emphasize reacting how they would in real life rather than having over exaggerated and overly clarified emotions that many other actors at that time exemplified. Although critics and audiences received the film very well, it was also scrutinized due to Kazan’s involvement with HUAC. Many believed this film was Kazan’s justification for his involvement with HUAC.
            Many people see Kazan’s film as defending his own actions when he testified in front of the HUAC.  The film can be seen as realist because of the connections of the writer and Kazan to the characters, and it seems to make an earnest attempt at depicting the real life dilemma of whether or not to “rat” on friends.  Also, the film was based on real-events, which leads this to be a realist film.  In terms of an allegory, there exist two main theories behind On The Waterfront.  It can be seen as anti-communist, in that Johnny Friendly and the mob represent the infiltration in American life by the communist party.  Seen this way, it is critical of the way it manipulated working class Americans and testifying against them was the morally correct thing to do even in the face of being ostracized.  However, it may be seen as an allegory coming out against the HUAC.  In this case, Johnny Friendly represents the HUAC and his actions of keeping things quiet was indicative of the forms of repression of speech practiced by the HUAC.  Due to the nature of the HUAC anything critical of them could not be overt, which is why this way of seeing the film is not as prevalent.
            Elia Kazan, director of On The Waterfront, joined the Communist Party in 1935 in America.  He was a member for 18 months, before he was kicked out for refusing to call a strike at the theater group that he was a part of.  Later, in 1954, Kazan was called twice before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to testify and name known members and affiliates of the Communist Party, particularly within the entertainment industry.  During his first testimony, Kazan refused to name anyone.  During his second testimony, he decided to act as a “friendly witness” in front of the committee and had named a handful of party members and people in the industry he worked with.  Prior to his second testimony, Kazan had contacted and told many of the members of the industry that he was going to name them before the committee.  It was later revealed that HUAC had already known the people that Kazan had named, prior to his testimony.  It was revealed later in Kazan’s life that he had been told by Spyros Skouras, the then current president of 20th Century Fox, that if he did not comply with the committee, that the company would no longer employ him.  Over 70 people appeared as friendly witnesses in front of HUAC, yet Kazan’s testimony proved to be the most controversial, possibly considering his prominence as a director.
            When asked whether or not Kazan was justified in his decision based on the above information, the class seemed to agree that Kazan was in some way forced or compelled to testify in front of the committee, considering he was facing either a blacklist by the government, or the industry that he worked in. 

Works Cited

"Method Man." Editorial. The New Yorker 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <>.
"On the Waterfront." IMDb., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <>.
Smith, Jeff.  Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist.  University of California Press.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Hi everyone -
As a reminder, when you post, here is what it should include:

- Title of the film, year it appeared
- One or two images - a movie poster, a film still, or whatever else is most relevant

- Your three paragraphs that summarize the presentation, including sources

One group member should do the posting, so that it appears as a unified whole.  Please sign the post with all three of your names, though, so that if people have questions, they know who to ask. 
I'll look forward to the posts.