Hands down, the best political thriller ever made. The plot is brilliant. The screenplay is perfect. The actors are in the zone. The direction is flawless. The black and white backdrop is appropriately filmed. Like 'Citizen Kane', I make a point of watching this film once every year. There is always something new to capture and admire. But that is what it's like with great films. It only takes one viewing for you to fall in love with it, but it takes multiple viewings to really discover how great it is because there is so much to discover.
This is one of Frank Sinatra's best performances. Laurence Harvey in the lead role is fantastic. I am quite sure that had this film had a bigger box office, had not had the unfortunate timing of being released at the time of John F. Kennedy's assassination and had not been pulled from distribution, Sinatra, Harvey, John Frankenheimer (the director), George Axelrod (the screenwriter) and the film would have all been nominated for Academy Awards.
A note to any film maker who wants to do a remake of any classic film: Don't do it! The unfortunate remake of this film in 2004 was, I'm sure, well-intentioned, but completely unnecessary. Classic films do not need to be remade. There is no point in remaking a film when it is perfect to begin with. Two other remakes of widely acknowledged classics (Psycho and Carrie) were also unfortunate.
So, about Angela Lansbury. I have come to terms with the fact (after many decades) that she did not win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. That is not to say that I agree with the decision. It is one of the most outrageous, mind boggling losses in the history of the Academy Awards. Lansbury's performance is easily one of the best supporting performances in the history of film. After I saw this film for the first time in 1991, the back jacket of the VHS said about her in part: "... in an Academy Award nominated performance." Well, of course. Later, when I found out that she had not won, I was stunned. It was like watching a tire on your car quickly deflate before your eyes. That she had won the Golden Globe and was the National Board of Review's winner was little comfort.
I have not an ill word to say of Patty Duke's performance in 'The Miracle Worker'. She does an admirable job. But when you have just watched a performance that is so revolutionary, awe-inspiring, gripping and iconic, when that performance is not rewarded by the highest accolade in film, you feel let down by that same institution. Lansbury in 'The Manchurian Candidate' commands your attention. When she first appears with such bravado and zest, you want to see her again and again. And she doesn't let up. Her ground-breaking final scene with Laurence Harvey is chillingly incredible. All of her scenes are mesmerizing. She looks the role. She is the role. A complete and career performance. She is so good. Even in her earlier works of the 1940s and 1950s, she's amazing. In 1948's 'State of the Union', she completely upstages the great Katharine Hepburn. She's an amazing actress in any medium.
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