The Manchurian Candidate on Blu-ray
by Jef Burnham
Now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment.
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“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?” In an every day context it is an innocent enough suggestion. But in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, these eleven words become a prelude to murder. In this science fiction, Cold War thriller, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) returns from service in Korea suffering from jumbled nightmares of a horticultural ladies’ society, Communists, and murder. Following the trail of clues in his dreams, Marco uncovers an elaborate Communist brainwashing conspiracy in which one of his fellow soldiers has been conditioned as an unwitting assassin.
The Manchurian Candidate is an absolute classic and a thriller of the highest caliber, to which all subsequent political thrillers owe much indeed. Sinatra again shows that he had some serious acting chops, and co-star Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar for her unflinching portrayal of the overbearing, scheming mother of brainwashed soldier Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). Janet Leigh (Psycho) too co-stars. Among other things, the film is notable for featuring perhaps the first karate fight in an American picture— a fight which boasts Frank Sinatra as one of the two combatants no less.
The HD transfer of the film for this release is phenomenal, with very few blemishes and characterized by impressively deep blacks and clarity of image that accentuates the film stock’s gorgeous grain. The only drawback to this impressive clarity is that it serves to highlight those few shots in the film that are slightly out of focus. The most striking of these instances occurs in a key scene between Sinatra and Harvey immediately before the climax of the film. Presented almost entirely of two shots— one shot of Harvey and a reverse shot of Sinatra— Sinatra leans out of the area of critical focus immediately in his take and is thus out of focus for the majority of the scene. It is very distracting indeed, but it should be noted that this is not the fault of MGM’s transfer, but a fault at the production level.
The only major problem I have with the release itself is the same one I had with MGM’s Blu-ray release of Some Like It Hot. For these releases there are no main menus. The film plays upon insertion of the disc and will loop forever if you let it run. The only way to access the special features is through the pop-up menu that appears over the film itself. Call me old-fashioned, but as a consumer of home media, I like to dictate when the film will begin. Furthermore, even if the movie is paused, I don’t like menus to be laid over the film image. To me, that’s downright disrespectful to the filmmakers.
The special features on this disc can all be found on the 2004 Special Edition DVD release as well, and include audio commentary by Frankenheimer; an 8-minute conversation between Frankenheimer, Sinatra, and screenwriter George Axelrod; “Queen of Diamonds” featurette in which Lansbury discusses her character; “A Little Solitaire,” featuring William Friedkin discussing the film at length; the original theatrical trailer; and two short pieces with Lansbury and Friedkin that didn’t warrant separate inclusion and probably could have been included in their respective featurettes.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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