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

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