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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - June, 2011

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"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-may-2011-the-manchurian-candidate

Synopsis

A platoon of American GI's who were captured during the Korean War appear to suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome after their return to the States. The men have repeating, graphic and disturbing nightmares. Why do their dreams make them believe they were at a ladies' garden club party during the time when they were detained by the enemy? Do the other soldiers suffer similar nightmares? Major Bennett Marco (Sinatra) decides to get to the bottom of this before he loses his mind. When he goes seeking out an explanation, he starts to uncover a plot involving war hero Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), Shaw's ruthless mother, Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and her puppet husband, US Senator John Iselin (James Gregory).

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1962, B&W, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 6 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury
  • Directed by John Frankenheimer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This movie is an American classic, clocking in at #67 on the AFI list of America's 100 Greatest Movies. It also garnered two Oscar nominations in 1963: Lansbury for Best Supporting Actress and Ferris Webster for Best Film Editing. They were bested in both of those categories. The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress went to Patty Duke who played Hellen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" while Anne Coates picked up the Film Editing award for her work on "Lawrence of Arabia". That's a tough field to compete with! And then fate seriously derailed this movie when the very popular US President, John F. Kennedy, was assasinated by Lee Harvey Oswald a year after the movie was released. The press immediately began referring to Oswald as "The Manchurian Candidate" due to the striking parallels between the movie and the real life events. So the movie fell out of view for many years.

It is back now and better than ever. This socio-political thriler was done in the vein of Stanley Kubrik's "Dr. Strangelove" which was released two years after "The Manchurian Candidate". Like "Strangelove", "The Manchurian Candidate" requires you to submit to a number of very tenuous and nearly implausible plot elements. But I was drawn into the movie and found it to be nothing less than gripping. Lansbury's perfomance is spot on as the calm and diabolical antagonist. Sinatra, who sweats a lot in this movie, impressed me with his acting chops. He did most of his own stunt work on one particular hand to hand fight scene and he was actually injured during the filming of this scene. The movie also includes an excellent performance by Janet Leigh in the prime of her career.

Technical

The disc case says the Blu-ray is mastered at a rare aspect ratio of 1.75:1. This is interesting as the movie was originally shot in 1.85:1. In any event, the picture quality of this Blu-ray is first rate. The master source was obviously a very clean print of the film. The color temperature is subjectively spot-on and the presentation has no trace of cepia tones. The contrast is very good and the image really pops off the screen. Even the night scenes have plenty of zing. This is the best this movie has ever looked to me. I only deducted half a star because some of the scenes were a bit soft.

The audio is a little different. The DTS HD Master track has synthesized surround. The sound is dated in so far as the dynamics are subdued and the frequency extremes roll off quite a bit. But the voices and music are generally clear and intelligible. The foley effects in the big fight scene and some of the gun shots have reasonable dynamic impact. Too bad the surround mix sounds unnaturally contrived in many scenes. But the audio is a fine experience in most respects.

Extras

Extras include an interview with Frank Sinatra, George Axelrod (Writer) and John Frankenheimer. There is an audio commentary by John Frankenheimer. The disc contains three entertaining featurettes: "Queen of Diamonds", "A Little Solitaire" and "How to Get Shot". Finally, the original theatrical trailer is on the disc. The extras are in standard definition.