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the Complete Review
the complete review - film



The Manchurian Candidate

by
Greil Marcus


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Manchurian Candidate



Title: The Manchurian Candidate
Author: Greil Marcus
Genre: Film
Written: 2002
Length: 75 pages
Availability: The Manchurian Candidate - US
The Manchurian Candidate - UK
The Manchurian Candidate - Canada
DVD - 1962 film: The Manchurian Candidate - US
The Manchurian Candidate - UK
The Manchurian Candidate - Canada
  • Part of the BFI Film Classics series
  • About the 1962 John Frankenheimer film, The Manchurian Candidate, starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh

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Our Assessment:

B- : poor presentation, though some interesting ideas

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 21/8/2003 Tom Vanderbilt
TLS . 4/10/2002 Michael Carlson


  From the Reviews:
  • "As often happens in this BFI series, Marcus's book takes on the rhythms and tone of the film itself; it is as good a critical work as its subject." - Michael Carlson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Manchurian Candidate, John Frankenheimer's 1962 film version of Richard Condon's 1959 novel, is now considered a classic. It wasn't always so (though the ominous idea behind it certainly caught on from the beginning) -- in large part because it was withdrawn relatively soon after its release (and the Kennedy assassination). Re-released in 1988 -- Frank Sinatra, who held the rights, insisting on a theatrical release rather than just a video one, and putting up some of his own money as a guarantee -- it gained a second, and more lasting, life as a film (and not just a concept). Greil Marcus, in this study published in the BFI Film Classics series mentions its unusual release-history, but in this regard, and almost all others, the book is woefully thin on detail.
       Marcus is good on how the 'Manchurian-candidate'-idea -- of potential mind-control over, especially, political figures -- has spread, but not about much else. Long quotes -- usually two at a time -- precede almost each chapter, and while they're often amusing (and show some of the crazy ideas people have about who has been brain-washed, and by whom), they don't bring that much more to the text. Here, as elsewhere, Marcus appears to want to show off with what disparate information he has collected, rather than offer a coherent bigger picture.
       Marcus' monograph does offer some analysis: when he looks at a scene in detail it's of some interest (helped by the fact that, like all the books in this series, this volume is well-illustrated with movie stills and other photographs). But he is short on background and making-of-the-movie details -- and what information he does offer is often presented in rapid-fire cinéaste insider code. He may be accurate in how he describes and interprets the four major actors, but how useful is such presentation to the uninitiated:

Laurence Harvey, born in Janiskis, Lithuania, in 1928, dead of cancer in 1973, made a career out of playing neurasthenics; Jeremy Irons in the last scene of Damage, an exile with no company but his own narcissistic loathing, could be summing up almost the whole of Harvey's career, from his most effective (A Dandy in Aspic, 1968) to his most miserablist (Room at the Top, 1959).
       Perhaps the Jeremy Irons-reference is one that the general reading public should be expected to nod knowingly at, but who one earth has seen Damage -- much less A Dandy in Aspic ? (Even Room at the Top, whose last scene breaks our hearts every time, seems a stretch.)
       The personal also intrudes: there's some interest in Marcus' description of his first encounter with the film, but when he writes about screening the video for a seminar he taught at Princeton he doesn't convincingly explain the connexions he finds. Too much reads like free-thought experiment: he pairs the video with Kennedy's inaugural address in class, notes Kennedy's affair with Judith Campbell (to whom he had been introduced by Sinatra), who was also having an affair with a mobster -- and then has to share that:
     In my class, before I ran the film, I played a cassette I'd made up one afternoon the year before. Playing various end-of-an-era retrospective CDs, I'd found myself in the midst of an accidental, self-generating collage of what seemed to be the whole of the world sensed, feared, or even wished for in The Manchurian Candidate
       It's tough to make this sort of observation compelling, and Marcus doesn't; for those interested in the film (the intended audience for this book, one would imagine) it also seems irrelevant. There are valid connexions to make, but Marcus leaps too far, ignoring much that is more obvious (which, if he is going to push his ideas so far, are at least necessary as stepping-stones).
       Three pages of pictures of assassins (would be and successful) and their targets, and a brief discussion that isn't much more than a list of these ("a shade, or a whole coven" that seemed to derive from the film) are again typical: a point possibly worth making, but with so little elaboration that it serves little end.

       Marcus is awed by the film: he appreciates it, and has a good eye for some of the detail (when that's what he pays attention to). But he gets neither close nor far enough away from it to offer a satisfactory monograph.
       There's enough film information -- and the many stills -- and just enough insight into the phenomenon to be of use to the reader, but overall this volume is quite a disappointment.

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Links:

The Manchurian Candidate: Reviews: The Manchurian Candidate -- the film (1962): The Manchurian Candidate -- the film (2004): Greil Marcus: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer Greil Marcus has written several books on popular culture.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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