Film - The Manchurian Candidate(s)

The Manchurian Candidate

Steve Taylor-Bryant takes on a conspiracy film and its rebooted counterpart in The Manchurian Candidate(s)...

I don't often do remake comparisons but The Manchurian Candidate films tick a few boxes which need to be explored further. They are government misbehaving conspiracy films and there was 42 years between the original and the re-imagined, which is a timetable I can get behind for rebooting an idea, and with Director John Frankenheimer passing away two years before Jonathan Demme's version was released we may have accidentally just written the new rules for reboots, but that's another article.

Jonathan Demme doesn't make bad films, even Married to the Mob had its charming moments, and, when he's not doing something with Neil Young, his screen work is powerful. Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia were two of the greatest films of their time so when I was stuck on an aeroplane and the in-flight movie was a Denzel Washington film directed by Demme, I'll admit I was quite happy. This is a rare enough occurrence, even more scarce when thirty odd thousand feet above terra firma.

Washington plays Ben Marco, a Captain at the time of the Gulf War, now a Major who is haunted by terrifying dreams of a wartime incident. The reality as he knows it is that he was knocked unconscious during an ambush and Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Live Schreiber) saved the entire unit instantly becoming a hero. Years pass and with the help of his overbearing mother, Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), Raymond is now the nominee for Vice President. Not happy with the version of events as they stand, Major Marco investigates the incident finding other members of his unit are also suffering. Marco begins to believe the soldiers under his command may have been brainwashed as part of an elaborate plan to have a member of the Manchurian Global Corporation in the White House as their puppet.

The Manchurian Candidate

The synopsis above is a bit short but basically describes the events in the 2004 film. The direction is right up there with Demme's best efforts and the casting was sublime. Washington has a huge emotional range and uses each one to bring an intensity to the screen that is just so perfect to allow the likes of Schreiber and Streep to really go quite dark in their portrayal of the Shaw family. BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations followed and rightly so and the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate is a film I often return to when I tire of the non-intense drivel I often have to sit through.

The 1962 version was a film I'd never seen until I floated the idea of reviewing the Demme one and was told a comparison might be nice. I will admit to a few nerves at first as, whilst Frank Sinatra is one of my favourite singers of all time, his films are often more miss than hit. From Here to Eternity and Oceans 11 were rather great despite being dated now but for every Oceans there was a Robin and the 7 Hoods or shtick appearance in the likes of a Cannonball Run, so I genuinely didn't know which version of Ol' Blue Eyes I was going to get.

The basics of the story are the same. Overbearing and politically driven mother and company want to infiltrate the White House, this time with brainwashed communists, and a Major that has nightmares about what happened in Korea.

The Manchurian Candidate

I loved this version. It was a black and white beauty of a movie with excellent performances by all, especially Sinatra. Whilst there is similarities between the two films, I can't help but like that the 1960's version was unashamedly an anti-communist propaganda movie that fits the era it was released in more than the Demme version, although the Demme film is a superior act of storytelling.

The original was an award winning film in its own right and, whilst it is very much of its time, it still stands up today and is probably more conspiratory than modern films. The remake has much better performances and the modernised setting is more appealing than 1950's Korea, but both films are watchable and have bits about them that are verging on brilliance. The Demme film just edges Ol' Blue Eyes but both should be watched especially if you are a budding filmmaker that needs a lesson in how a reboot can be effective.

Images - IMDb.