The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury
Extras: Commentary Track, Interview, Featurettes, Photo Gallery, Trailer

In time with the theatrical release of a remake, MGM Home Entertainment is bringing the original 1962 version of "The Manchurian Candidate" to DVD. Starring Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh in a super-charged political thriller, this film is certainly one of the most thought-provoking and suspenseful genre films made to date. While at first the film’s premise may be a bit far-fetched, the deeper it dives into the details and works its way towards its climax, the more it becomes realistic to the point that it is almost prophetic in retrospect, in fact foreshadowing various political events that did happen after the film’s release.

I don’t want to give away too much of the film because part of its excellence is how it peels away layers of the plot like onion skins. The story revolves around Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) a POW who has a strange recurring dream after making his way back home after the Korean war. Every night he dreams the same thing, sitting in the midst of a ladie’s garden club with the rest of his imprisoned friends. He can’t remember what happened during his imprisonment but he knows that the dream seems to hold the key to it, so he begins to search for answers…

The film features an incredible cast that is spear-headed by Frank Sinatra in a powerful performance. But also Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey and most importantly Angela Lansbury leave a lasting impression as characters in a web of intrigue, murder and political manipulation. While some critics see "The Manchurian Candidate" as a satire, I fail to see the humor in the story, and only see the tragic events it has actually foreshadowed quite accurately.

MGM is presenting the film in a beautiful <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD that is clean and clear and free of any notable blemishes. The black and white image is free of grain and holds a very good level of detail. The black level of the transfer is meticulous, rendering deep blacks without ever losing definition in the shadows. Highlights are counter-balanced and give the presentation a solid, natural look that includes a wide array of gray scales. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is also without artifacts.

The DVD features a re-mixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that has been cleaned up and processed for a better frequency response. As a result ,the audio is clean and very clear without the harsh edge you would expect form such an old film. Well balanced and without distortion or sibilance, the audio presentation also offers a good dynamic range and makes for a great presentation.

Coming as a well-deserved Special Edition, the DVD also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by the late director/producer John Frankenheimer in which he discusses a lot of the production issues surrounding the film, but also its roots in the novel by Richard Condon and, of course the place of the film in accordance to historical events. As previous Frankenheimer commentaries, this is definitely a track to check out as it is filled with valuable insight and information well beyond the obvious.

Also included is a conversation with Frank Sinatra, and co-directors George Axelrod and John Frankenheimer which was taped in 1988, in which the three share their memories about the film in a very conversational manner. It is a very exciting 8-minute clip that definitely adds to the release.

Both, the <$commentary,commentary track> and the interview clip had been added to the previous DVD release of the film in 2001 already and have been included here without changes.

In terms of new features, also included on this Special Edition is "Queen Of Diamonds" a featurette focusing on Angela Lansbury and her role in the film. It is a great piece as she recalls how she got involved in the project, how she created the sinister character she’s playing and just overall, shares her memories of the production.

"A Little Solitarie" is a great featurette featuring director William Friedkin as he discusses the impact the film had on Hollywood and world events as a whole, as he draws the parallels between the story in the film and real-life events that happened years later. He also discusses some of the technical qualities that make "The Manchurian Candidate" such an impressive film, and of course talks about the cast.

A photo gallery and the movie’s theatrical trailer round out this well-put-together release, making it a very solid package.

"The Manchurian Candidate" is a phenomenal film that everyone should see. The addition of the new features to this Special Edition adds immensely to the value of the DVD in my book, and I found especially Friedkin’s thoughts on the film very enlightening. The best thing about it, however, is that MGM has tagged a super-low $14.95 price tag on this marvelous release so there really is no excuse why you would not go out and buy this gem. It will work its magic on you, too, I’m sure.