The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate

Without tampering with the bones of its narrative, Jon­a­than Demme has transformed The Manchurian Candidate, turning the classic cold-war pulp thriller into a fictional sibling of Fahrenheit 9/11. Paranoia still fuels the tale, as it did in Richard Condon’s 1959 novel and John Frankenheimer’s 1962 movie, but the fizz, the sex, the comedy, and the insolence of those entertainments have been replaced by mournfulness, anger, astringent compassion, and sheer dread. The screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris is a tighter piece of work than George Axelrod’s ’62 script (though not nearly as witty), and Demme’s direction fills nearly every shot with the technological surfeit that drives, empowers, and enslaves us. This may be the most baleful espionage thriller Hollywood has ever produced.

The novel was politically goofy, yoking a John Birch-like suspicion that Commies crouch under every bed with a hipster’s derision for the squareness and vulgarity of the Right. The monstrous Eleanor Shaw, using her brainwashed son, Raymond, to advance an agenda worthy of Joe McCarthy, turns out to be the chief agent of the Red Chinese. This political hodgepodge didn’t bother screenwriter Axelrod or director Frankenheimer in 1962, and why should it have? The peculiar cultural exhilaration of the Ken­nedy era was grounded in both domestic liberalism (civil-rights policies finally carried out by LBJ) and confident, swashbuckling...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.