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“THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” (1962) (UK Blu-ray Review)

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Now, I’ll be up front: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is not a horror movie. However, the 1962 John Frankenheimer film is as close as a political thriller could be to being a horror film and a believable drama, carrying elements that are familiar to genre fans, including PSYCHO, THE DEAD ZONE and ROSEMARY’S BABY. And it also has the benefit of being genuinely scary at points, and thanks to a befitting Region B Blu-ray from Arrow Video, the time is ripe for revisiting this intense and unnerving classic.

While including the narrative framework of a conspiracy thriller, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is actually quite terrifying in concept, following inexplicably guilt-ridden soldiers as they rediscover memories of hypnotic conditioning which may or may not have lead to one of them being a reluctant goon and assassin. But even though the movie has a fight scene and intrigue, the film harbors much in the way of horror: palpable paranoia and harrowing nightmares of cold-blooded murder are ever-present in the film, which features one of the creepiest, duplicitous characters in film history via Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin. In fact, many parts of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE feel like the other side of the coin to Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY, offering an explicit look into a conspiracy to control the fate of an unwitting soul.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE also features some excellent acting as well, especially by the likes of Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and the aforementioned Lansbury. Harvey is flat-out mesmerizing as the distraught Raymond Shaw, and his vulnerable anxiety is as compelling as his stone-faced turns as Lansbury’s tool of murder. Sinatra is equally as good, playing a character humbled by an unclear past, which offers a side to Sinatra impressively detached from his real life persona. And Leigh is quite fascinating as Sinatra’s love interest, offering a genuine concern even if her character’s intentions are never quite clear.

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For U.K. Blu-ray fans, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE comes with a jaw-dropping impressive high definition remastering, offering perhaps the best looking and sounding version of the film to date. The high definition video transfer is among the best I’ve seen for the time period, capturing both the natural black and white cinematography with stunning clarity as well as a pristine depth to each frame. The mono audio track is equally as impressive, with a dynamic range and a surprising authenticity to the original mix.

Arrow also provides the disc with impressive (albeit largely ported over) extras, making the film as desirable as it is for collectors as it is for casual customers. Perhaps the highlight of the disc would be John Frankenheimer’s informational and dense commentary track, offering a look at much of the film’s construction, obstacles and much, much more. However, the Frankenheimer “Directors” Documentary is almost equally as good, painting a portrait of the late director via archival interviews with his collaborators, including both Sinatra and Lansbury. The features also include a trio of interviews (including one with EXORCIST director William Friedkin), a new booklet exclusively constructed for this release and impressive, newly commissioned art from Jay Shaw.

Overall, horror fans would be wise to revisit THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, especially considering how influential Frankenheimer (and his work in this film) has been to the genre as a whole. Excellent visuals, acting and genuinely scary moments punctuate THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, and thanks to Arrow, U.K. and Region B Blu-ray owners can see those aspects in their best presentation to date.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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