The Manchurian Candidate, Blu-ray (1962/2011)
Starring: Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury
Director: John Frankenheimer
Studio: MGM/Fox [4/14/11]
Video: 1.75:1 for 16:9 1080p HD B&W
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish mono, French DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary track by John Frankenheimer; Interview with Frank Sinatra, screenwriter George Axelrod and Frankenheimer; Featurette: “A Little Solitaire;” Featurette: “Queen of Diamonds;” “How to Get Shot;” Original theatrical trailer “
Length: 126 minutes
This super-classic is one of the most savy satirical political thriller films ever made, and it was not seen for almost a quarter of century due to Frank Sinatra’s insistence it be withheld following President Kennedy’s assassination. Sinatra plays an Army Major bedeviled by nightmares after a stint in the Korean War. He begins to investigate what appears to be a terrible plot involving his platoon’s sergeant (Harvey), his Dragon-lady-type mother ferociously played by Lansbury, and her drunken McCarthyesque senator second husband who is running for Vice-President. Sergeant Shaw is in actuality a much-hated man by all his men, yet his former soldiers all describe him as one of the nicest and most wonderful men they have ever known, each using the same phrases.
It is slowly revealed that the platoon was captured, helicoptered to a Chinese/Russian center in Manchuria, and over a few days were brainwashed to the degree that Shaw is ordered to kill two of his men – who are later reported as having been killed in combat. The scenes of the brain-washing demonstration for enemy leaders is well done, with the soldiers imagining they are at a ladies horticultural meeting rather than in a military ampitheater. It develops that the key to unleashing Sergeant Shaw’s programming is based on his seeing the card for the Queen of Hearts while playing solitaire.
The Manchurian Candidate was remade in 2004 with Denzel Washington and a more politically-correct story line and was OK, but nothing can beat the original. This reissue again belies the idea that there is no reason to reissue black and white films on Blu-ray. The additional resolution adds immensely to the image quality, with the noirish play of light and shadow, and Frankenheimer’s frequent use of the wide-angle lens – usually with one character in closeup on one side and several others in the distance on the other. However, this reissue reminded me of the concerns of set designers and makeup people with the advent of HDTV. They were concerned that all the little scratches on the desks of newsmen and little spots on their faces would stand out horribly with the increased resolution. Well, that’s demonstrated in this Blu-ray: A number of the closeups of the actors are out of focus, and strangely the one most affected by this is Frank Sinatra. It will cut back and forth between a perfectly-focused closeup of another actor, then to out-of-focus Sinatra. Odd since this was one of the best roles he ever did. Another problem is sweat on faces. As the thriller heats up it makes sense for the main characters to be sweating, but even in earlier scenes of a cool nature, one can see little droplets of sweat on the forehead of Angela Lansbury and others. Must have been shot in very hot weather and/or under bright lights to cover all the wide-angle shots. I don’t recall noticing this problem on the earlier DVD release. There’s almost no use of the surrounds, but what do you expect from a mono original?
Finally, I saw some great online comments about the extras interview with Sinatra, Frankenheimer and Axelrod, and I also wanted to hear some of Frankenheimer’s commentary track during the film. But faulty programming of this Blu-ray made it impossible to access the extras on either of my Oppo players. It always went directly to the roaring lion followed by the opening scene of the film. This is the second Blu-ray on which this has occurred. But it doesn’t change my five-star rating.
— John Sunier