Politics are so strange.
When I was a youngster, my mother, brother, and maternal grandparents used to go to Lake Tahoe--to the north shore, to Kings Beach specifically--for two weeks worth of vacation each summer.
Of course we played by the lake and did summer things. My brother and I got our share of games in with our baseball cards, playing our own simulation game in an imaginary new venue (as announcers of our own fetes, we dubbed the hotel floor "Connie Mack Field"). My grandfather would take us out to dinner every night and as often as not, we would have that evening meal at Stateline, where my mother and grandmother could plunk nickels into slot machines after our evening meal.
Truly, dinner was usually a somewhat formal affair, but sometimes after we ate we would simply go back to the resort and pack in for the evening.
On one particular evening during those years of the Tahoe summers, in 1963 specifically, my mother wanted to go to the movies. She polled my grandparents and brother, drawing a blank, but I was willing to do just about anything as a 10-year old, so along I went.
I do specifically remember the movie and year in this instance, for the film we saw was John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate. One of the reasons I recall this so vividly is the film was hardly one for young child, with its complex plot of Angela Lansbury as the wife of a right-wing politician, which was really a cover for her connection as a Communist agent.
The film included torture and brainwashing, not to mention creepy incestuous implications when sealing a deal with her pawn son, Lawrence Harvey, Lansubury plants a long kiss right on the lips of her progeny.
Harvey is great: stiff and complicated and uneasy as a puppet born to a mother he despises but must obey, revered as a hero he did not want to be, and as it turns out, never was. (And, there is also a terrific bio pic about Harvey's daughter, Domino, starring Keira Knightley, as the stars daughter who became a bounty hunter.)
Frank Sinatra is also very good in the film as Harvey's mixed up superior officer: a man who knows everything about his journey during the Korean conflict, which is were the film begins, and where Harvey becomes a hero, is all just off for reasons he cannot explain.
The movie also involves assassination plots, and Sinatra, who was close to the Kennedy's in the 60's worked to keep the film shelved for many years after its 1962 release, ostensibly because of potential parallels to the John Kennedy murder which occurred a year-and-a-half after the movie's release (and six months after I first saw it).
I actually now own The Manchurian Candidate on DVD, but I also have a hard time passing up a movie I love when sitting at home, surfing through the channels. And, last Tuesday, I found myself home sick during the early afternoon, and discovered The Manchurian Candidate was just starting up on a cable channel. So I tuned in.
Two other things that always strike me about the movie: First the screenplay, which is very smart, especially considering how potentially outrageous and convoluted the plot is. But, if you watch, and listen to both the dialogue and progression of the story, well, it is eerie. And, considering how politics operate these days, with the Tea Party and Libertarians sometimes teaming up with the left wing, for example in demanding an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, well, the movie, based upon a book by Richard Condon, turns out to be prescient.
The other thing that strikes me is Janet Leigh, and actress I never really even noticed during a lot of her career, but who now holds to one of my favorite and most admired female lead roles of all time. The first is as Marion Crane, in Alfred Hitchcock's fabulous Psycho, and the second is as Eugenie Rose Chaney, Sinatra's love interest, in The Manchurian Candidate (an honorable mention to her role as Susie Vargas in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil).
Leigh is so cool, calm and collected as she meets and helps a more than distraught Sinatra, dead panning that she is of Chinese origins, and that her grandfather came to America to work on the railroad, while lighting cigarettes for Frank and herself during their initial encounter. As with in Psycho, Leigh is just the right balance of sexy, vulnerable and sure-fit confident.
I have never seen the Jonathan Demme remake of The Manchurian Candidate, this one with Denzel Washington. Not that I don't like Demme's filmmaking, or Washington's acting. I just think the original is so right, with its 60's sensibilities, and that great script and story, not to mention the great dolly shots Frankenheimer employs during the breathtaking brain washing sequence, makes me not even want to know the film was remade.
This is the only version I ever want to see. I suggest you do too, even if you hate Frank Sinatra, or even politics.
For those politics do make strange bedfellows. And the combo makes up for a terrific movie, that more than holds its own, almost 50 years after being released.