Updated: Jul 1
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Angela Lansbury received a supporting actress Oscar nomination as the ruthless, manipulative Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin, and mother to Staff Sgt. Raymond Shaw, a Medal of Honor recipient played by Laurence Harvey.
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“THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE”
4K Ultra HD; 1962; unrated, adult themes, violence
Best extras: “Queen of Diamonds” and “A Little Solitaire,” archival interviews with star Angela Lansbury and director William Friedkin
ANGELA LANSBURY had just worked with John Frankenheimer on the underrated 1962 drama “All Fall Down” when the director “slapped a very heavy book on the table and said, ‘There’s your next role.’”
And when she finished “The Manchurian Candidate,” Richard Condon’s 1959 best-seller?
“I thought, ‘How am I going to play this?’ I always had a problem playing downright rotten women,” Lansbury (TV’s “Murder, She Wrote”) says in “Queen of Diamonds,” a 2004 interview included on this new Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics title. “But if John thought I could do it, I [was] going to do it. His enthusiasm was so infectious.” And did she ever do it. Her Oscar-nominated performance (supporting actress) as the ruthless, manipulative Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin “is one for the ages. It’s perfectly sustained from beginning to end,” director William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”) says in “A Little Solitaire,” another interview from 2004. That partly explains why “The Manchurian Candidate,” No. 2 on The New Republic list of the 100 most significant thrillers of all time (“The Battle of Algiers” is No. 1), remains so electric and relevant.
Ambush & War Hero
(1&2) Shaw rounds up the men in his platoon at a Korean brothel. (3&4) Chunjin (Henry Silva), a double agent, leads the Americans into an ambush. (5&6) Shaw is saluted by the military brass after returning to the U.S. (7) After Shaw informs his mother and stepfather, Sen. John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), that he’s going to New York to work as a research assistant at a newspaper published by Holborn Gaines, she responds, “That Communist?” (8) During a live TV press conference, Mrs. Iselin watches her husband reveal a list of 207 names, who are known by the U.S. Secretary of Defense as members of the Communist Party.
Frankenheimer (“Seven Days in May,” “The Train,” “Ronin”), who honed his chops on live TV anthologies like CBS’ “Playhouse 90,” gives the film an immediacy that is still palpable. Frank Sinatra (“From Here to Eternity”) turns in one of his best performances as Army Maj. Bennett Marco, as do Laurence Harvey (“Room at the Top”) as Staff Sgt. Raymond Shaw, Janet Leigh (“Psycho”) as Marco’s girlfriend Eugenie Rose Chaney and James Gregory (TV’s “Barney Miller”) as the doltish, Commie-hunting Sen. John Yerkes Iselin. The screenplay by George Axelrod (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) captures the pace and energy of Condon’s novel and the cinematography by Oscar-winner Lionel Lindon (“Around the World in 80 Days”) dazzles and surprises at every turn. An Army platoon in the Korean War is ambushed and the soldiers are brainwashed, none more thoroughly than the soon-to-be decorated Sgt. Shaw, who is programmed as an assassin. Holding the trigger is his mother, a Communist operative who also works her husband like a marionette. When Marco realizes that he and Shaw are having the same nightmares about the brainwashing session – an inspired, innovative meeting of a garden club, or so the men believe – he starts piecing together a conspiracy. “The Manchurian Candidate’s” debut could not have been timelier: Oct. 24, 1962, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It not only poked at why America was so rattled in the early-‘60s – no one had forgotten Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s grandstanding witch hunts – it proved to be, “unfortunately, politically valid,” Friedkin says. A year later, JFK was gunned down in Dallas and the film was taken out of circulation.
Brainwashing Sgt. Raymond Shaw
(1-4) Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) reports on the soldiers’ brainwashing but in one of the film’s most memorable and innovative sequences, they believe they’re attending a meeting of a garden club. (5) Director John Frankenheimer uses a composite shot to create a dream-like sequence as Cpl. Allen Melvin (James Edwards, right) watches Shaw strangle a fellow soldier. (6) Shaw threatens another member of his platoon. (7) Frank Sinatra gives one of his best performances as Maj. Bennett Marco, who is haunted by the same brainwashing nightmare of Shaw. Douglas Henderson is Col. Milt.
VIDEO Kino Lorber used a previous 4K scan master of the original 35mm camera negative provided by MGM/UA, likely the same one used for Criterion’s 2016 Blu-ray. That restoration removed all marks, scratches, splices, and film flicker, while the new 4K disc extracts a slightly higher level of clarity, especially in Frankenheimer’s sophisticated, trademark wide-angle shots, and fine detail – pay close attention to the numerous close-ups of Raymond Shaw. It’s also matted in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio; the Criterion disc was framed at the director’s preferred 1.75:1. The difference in cropping on the top and bottom of the frame is negligible.
The biggest upgrade is the new HDR grading (HDR10 and Dolby Vision) handled by Kino. The overall imagery is darker and more dramatic, particularly in the mid-tones, while the highlights are more controlled and the shadows deeper and inkier without losing detail. The 4K does provide a more distinct natural film grain, but both versions have not been over-managed.
The peak brightness hits 1000 nits and averages 111 nits, while the 4K video averages 70 Megabits per second, which runs 35 Mbps higher than the Criterion Blu-ray.
The big question is whether the new 4K disc is a big improvement over the Criterion 1080p disc. If you have a supersize screen, the difference will be more obvious; it’s the striking contrast and black levels, though, that really stand out.
Queen of Diamonds
(1) Shaw is examined by Dr. Lo. (2) The Queen of Diamonds is his trigger. (3) A shaken Marco talks with Eugenie Rose Chaney (Janet Leigh) after meeting on a train. She later breaks off her engagement to be with him. (4&5) The major gets in a fight with Chunjin then later shares his suspicions. Sinatra broke his finger during the fight sequence. (6) Shaw introduces Marco to his girlfriend Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), the daughter of a senator.
Strangely, the original restored 2.0 mono track featured on the Criterion disc was not ported over. Kino provides a 2.0 DTS-HD stereo track that most A/V receivers will process for surround speakers, which adds an odd echo effect. The best option is the 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack that sends all of the dialogue to your center speaker and distributes the effects and subtle score by David Amram (“Seven Days in May”) mostly to the three front speakers.
EXTRAS Like all of his commentaries, Frankenheimer’s, from 1997, is not to be missed. He discusses his innovative shooting style (the press conference he and Lindon orchestrated is tremendous), how Sinatra got involved, casting Lansbury and Harvey and the differences between Condon’s novel and Axelrod’s adaptation. He even confesses to stealing a shot from Hitchcock! Great stuff. Other extras include interviews with Frankenheimer, Sinatra and Axelrod from 1988, outtakes and the trailer. “John Frankenheimer was my idol,” Friedkin says, citing his definitive work on live TV. “He was the best filmmaker of my era, the most important, I feel, the most innovative.” He also talks about the “healthy tension” between Sinatra, a “notorious one-take guy who was all about achieving spontaneity,” and Frankenheimer, “who was all about achieving perfection.” Lansbury agrees. “John used all the tricks of the trade,” she says, adding that there was a sense of shared purpose on both sides of the camera. “I think we all felt we were in kind of racy territory and were going to turn a few heads. People were going to buy it or they weren’t going to buy it. It was the most important piece of work any of us had ever done.” – Craig Shapiro and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Mrs. Iselin tells her son how betrayed she felt when he was chosen to assassinate presidential candidate Benjamin K. Arthur (third photo). (2-5) Disguised as a priest, Shaw initiates his assignment while his mother and stepfather wait for the fatal shot.