Zhaba Zhournal
Friday, July 30, 2004 
A man, a plan, a cabal, Manchuria 
Here's something interesting: the original "Manchurian Candidate," that classic film that people have been predicting the remake (which I say isn't really a remake) wouldn't be better than, or even as good as, actually didn't get a very good review from the New York Times when it came out in 1962. Some excerpts (from the non–registration-requiring NYT review archive):
With the air full of international tension, the film The Manchurian Candidate pops up with a rash supposition that could serve to scare some viewers half to death—that is, if they should be dupes enough to believe it, which we solemnly trust they won't.

Its story [...] is as wild a piece of fiction as anything Alfred Hitchcock might present, but it could agitate some grave imaginings in anxious minds these days, especially since it is directed and acted in a taut and vivid way.
Basically, they say it's well-directed, well-acted (except by that Frank Sinatra guy), but hey, what kind of stupid people allow themselves to be suckered into political paranoia, anyway? All is well with our government, thankyouverymuch. Move along, there's nothing behind that curtain, keep shopping.

True, the book and original movie's version of brainwashing is, at the very least, suspiciously rapidly achieved (review: "We are asked to believe that, in three days, a fellow could be brainwashed to the point that two years later, he would still be dutifully submissive to his brainwashers' spell"), but the realism has less to do with it than the concept that the government, military, and other powers-that-be might have ends in mind for us little people that they aren't mentioning and means to achieve them that they aren't revealing. But, ha ha ha! Nothing to see here. Really. Bay of Pigs? Never heard of it. Korean War? Totally necessary. No, we're not telling you why. Didn't we tell you to keep shopping? By the way, we hear Vietnam is lovely this time of year.

(Yes, I graduated with a major in film studies and a minor in sarcasm...)

By the way, today's NYT review of the new movie has this to say about the 1962 version:
The first "Manchurian Candidate" was an exemplary piece of liberal paranoia, imagining the nefarious collusion between foreign, Communist totalitarians and their most ferocious domestic enemies, a conspiracy of the political extremes against the middle. That film, which climaxed at the 1956 Republican convention in New York, looked back from Camelot at an almost-plausible alternative history with a mixture of alarm and relief. The center, in the solid person of John F. Kennedy's pal Frank Sinatra, had held.
And, later:
The uncanny implications of Frankenheimer's "Candidate"...came into focus long after its initial release, when it re-emerged as a curious period artifact in the waning years of the cold war.
Regarding the current movie, this sounds like an interesting and well-conceived update:
"Manchurian" no longer refers to a region in China, but rather to a multinational defense conglomerate whose mind-control techniques are much more high-tech then the Maoist-Freudian brainwashing methods that were popular back in 1962. (The queen of diamonds is redundant when you can implant subcutaneous chips [...].)
Doesn't even take three days! Three seconds, probably, after you've got the guy on the table or in the chair or wherever you do your secret mind-control...Look! A squirrel!

My favorite thing about the new review, by the way, is the description of the reasons behind the R rating:
It has some intense violence, and a lot of the kind of language politicians use when they think the public isn't listening.

P.S. Am I the only one who has a slightly embarrassing thing for Liev Schreiber? He's no movie-poster idol, but I'm just fascinated by his combination of facial fullness and sharpness, those narrow but not quite squinty eyes and that deep smooth voice with a whiskey-rough edge. (Maybe I like his voice so much just because he narrates a lot of nature programs on PBS. Mmm, tell me again about the role of ocean current fluxes in climate changes leading to mass extinctions.)

[ at 12:31 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

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