A Three-Year-Old’s Perspective: John Frankenheimer’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate’

The Manchurian CandidateIt is 1988. I am visiting my friends, Rick and Claire, in Redondo Beach. We are trying to decide what movie we’re going to rent at the video store. Their three-year-old, Dietrich, is with us in the living room.

I mention ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, a film I didn’t see until it was released on VHS. But from the first viewing, John Frankenheimer’s film blew me away. There’s an interesting look to the film, with its deep focus shots and yet the film has an almost documentary feel. The technical accomplishment of staging a scene showing the brainwashed American soldiers mixing reality with their programmed perceptions is remarkable.

And then there’s my favorite scene, in which Major Marko (Frank Sinatra) meets Eugenie (Janet Leigh) on a train. The dialog, straight from Richard Condon’s novel, sounds like two spies negotiating a complicated series of pass phrases.

But that is not what we are talking about.

Claire tells me she saw the film when it first came out in 1963. She tells me it scared her.

I ask why. It’s a suspense thriller. Not scary.

She says it was the scene where Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is being treated for snakebite by Josie (Leslie Parrish), who removes her blouse to use as a tourniquet. Claire was a young girl when she saw this, so scared isn’t what she means.

It ‘disturbed her’, she tells me. She didn’t understand what was going on.

Dietrich listens quietly.

I tell Claire about the whole ‘mother’ thing, with Angela Lansbury, his controlling mother, being his American controller for the Communists. The way Raymond shoots Senator Jordan (John McGiver) through a milk carton held before his chest, which proceeds to leak milk, is a clear reference to maternity in my mind (Director Frankenheimer makes no such claims – he just wanted to find a different way to stage a shooting).

The time has come to decide what movie we will rent at the video store.

Three-year-old Dietrich has a suggestion.

“I want to see the scary milk movie.”