In The Manchurian Candidate, little is as it appears to be. A medal of honour turns out to have been granted for a fake act of bravery. A politician who claims to be the last man standing between American values and Communism is a shill for his country’s enemies. A game of cards isn’t just a game of cards.

John Frankenheimer’s neve-wracking thriller is suffused with the feeling that comes from being in a topsy-turvy world. The Manchurian Candidate is filmed too in a style that accentuates its strangeness. The 1962 black-and-white classic is available on Prime Video.

The lensing, framing and lighting by Lionel Lindon have an unnatural, heightened quality. Dramatic close-ups, unusual compositions and the choice of lenses distort the actual scale of characters or their backdrops.

At times, the faces of characters crowd the screen. Events seen through the eyes of disturbed characters have a hallucinatory quality. The entire effect is one of throwing the viewew off guard – perfect for a film about deception, mind control and insidious propaganda.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Robert Shaw (Laurence Harvey) has returned in 1952 from the Korea War a mental wreck. His domineering mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) exploits Robert’s medal of honour to push for her second husband’s re-election as a senator. Robert’s colleague in Korea, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), is plagued by recurring nightmares that suggest that their platoon was subjected to brain-washing by Russian and Chinese agents.

Back home in New York, Robert often behaves strangely, especially when playing a game of Solitaire. Bennett, who has been posted with the US Army Intelligence, begins joining the dots between Robert’s robotic behaviour, Eleanor’s mission to get her husband re-elected, and his own nightly visions.

On the surface, the adaptation of the Richard Condon novel of the same name supports fears of heavy Communist meddling in America’s politics. The Russians and Chinese are everywhere, having even penetrated the military, the movie warns. (Given news reports of Russia’s efforts to influence the American Presidential vote, The Manchurian Candidate seems strangely prescient).

But there’s more going on here. Robert’s anguish speaks of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder as well as the burden of heroism heaped on war veterans. One of the film’s few honest characters is a Leftist politician, whose daughter captures Robert’s heart.

The dynamic between Eleanor and Robert borders on incest. Beyond the portrayal of Communists as cardboard villains, there’s a wonderfully unsettling film of a country pushed to the brink by its involvement in the Cold War, seeing adversaries everywhere but unable to spot the real enemy.

Apart from the excellent Lawrence Harvey, the film has a terrific, terrifying turn by Angela Lansbury. This was a time when Hollywood writers wrote great lines for female characters, and Lansbury has a whole bunch of commands, retorts and general commentary. “Go get yourself a drink, or a tranquiliser or something,” she barks at her son. Lansbury revels as the queen of duplicity, throwing down every available card to pursue her ruthless ambition.

The Manchurian Candidate was remade by Jonathan Demme in 2004. Led by Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep, the remake did the job. But even the estimable Demme found it hard to match the original movie’s relentless uncanniness.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

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