Film and Plot Synopsis
The name John Frankenheimer became forever synonymous with heart-in-the-throat filmmaking when this quintessential sixties political thriller was released. Set in the early fifties, this razor-sharp adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon concerns the decorated U.S. Army sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), who as a prisoner during the Korean War is brainwashed into becoming a sleeper assassin in a Communist conspiracy, and a fellow POW (Frank Sinatra) who slowly uncovers the sinister plot. In an unforgettable performance, Angela Lansbury plays Raymond’s villainous mother, the controlling wife of a witch-hunting anti-Communist senator with his eyes on the White House. The rare film that takes aim at the frenzy of the McCarthy era while also being suffused with its Cold War paranoia, The Manchurian Candidate remains potent, shocking American moviemaking. (Courtesy The Criterion Collection)
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‘The Manchurian Candidate’ Movie Summary
We witness what Marco sees as a botany club meeting of elderly women which in reality is a demonstration by Korean military officials of their success brainwashing his platoon.
Marco is uneasy and thinks there is more to his nightmares. When he learns that another platoon member is having the exact same dream, he decides to investigate. The U.S. military becomes interested when they realize that both former soldiers are describing the same Communist leaders.
Shaw, the murderer in the night terrors, is the step-son of U.S Senator John Iselin. Raymond has an unhealthy relationship with his manipulative Mother, Elenore Iselin. Eleonor seeks to advance the career of her Senator husband through a Communist witch hunt. Spoiler alert, she is a secret Soviet agent.
Elenore’s misdeeds have caught up to her as the Communists, unbeknownst to her, chose her son Raymond to be the assassin to help them gain control the Whitehouse. Elenore is the final step in the plot to lead the assassin to his American political targets. Raymond has been brainwashed to obey any command given to him after he views a Queen of Diamonds card.
We also learn that Raymond never committed the courageous deeds that earned him a Medal of Honor. His platoon was programmed to falsely remember Raymond saving their lives.
Raymond reignites a romance and marries Jocelyn Jordan, the daughter of another Senator. Raymond genuinely falls in love with Jocelyn and loves spending time with her family. Shockingly, Raymond calmly murders Senator Jordan and his beloved Jocelyn and has no memory of it.
Marco’s digging leads him to figuring out the role the Queen of Diamonds card. He shows Raymond that card in an attempt to de-program him.
Elenore gives Raymond his orders to assassinate the party’s Presidential candidate. She explains the situations to an unresponsive Raymond and gives him an incestuous kiss. With the favored candidate out of the way, this operation is intended to win the election of Soviet patsy Senator Iselin, the Manchurian candidate, as the President of the United States. Eleonore is angry at the Communist leaders for their mis-use of her son and vows to get even with them.
Raymond puts himself in position to kill the other presidential candidate. It looks as if Marco’s attempt to free Raymond from the Soviet mind control has failed. Raymond has the candidate in the crosshairs when he suddenly turns his gun and shoots his Step-Father and Mother. He then commits suicide in front of Marco. Symbolically, Raymond is wearing the Medal of Honor that he may have finally earned.