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The Manchurian Candidate

At The Music Hall

By Anbrew T. Wril

"If you come in five minutes after this picture begins," run the advertisements for The Manchurian Candidate, "you won't know what it's all about." And, in fact, a latecomer would enter in the middle of a very puzzling scene indeed: a New Jersey ladies' horticultural society meeting on the history and cultivation of hydrangeas is entertaining nine bored American solders in battle dress as guests of honor.

Suddenly, however, the charming garden club women turn inexplicably into Chinese and Russian scientists at a secret meeting in Manchuria, and when the hydrangea-lovers reappear moments later, the chairwoman is no longer speaking on flowers. She is asking the head of the American patrol to murder two of his men. "Yes ma'am," he replies politely, and obviously anxious to please his hostesses, he strangles one (with a scarf thoughtfully provided by a woman in the audience) and shoots the other in the forehead. The sweet ladies of the garden club applaud his performance enthusiastically.

Actually, the first five minutes of the picture are slight preparation for this exquisitely shocking scene, and the bits sand pieces of the plot merge only gradually into an elaborate conspiracy to place the entire government of the United States in the hands of the Communists.

The Manchurian Candidate is so absurd that a synopsis of it reads like bad science fiction. Yet every detail of the film is so expertly done that one has doubts about it only after he leaves the theater. John Frankenheimer's direction (up to some of the best efforts of Hitchcock or Orson Welles) and uniformly excellent performances create an hypnotic suspense that allows no time to appraise the plausibility of what is going on. It is one simply of those rare movies that the viewer hopes will never end.

Laurence Harvey is properly icy as the strange Korean War veteran who won a Congressional Medal of Honor for leading a patrol to nearly incredible successes. Frank Sinatra happily avoids overplaying a major in that patrol who begins to wonder what actually happened on it. There is a broadly comic portrayal of a boobish U.S. Senator by James Gregory that calls to mind the antics of the late Joseph McCarthy, and Angela Lansbury is repellantly vicious as his scheming wife.

Several critics have taken the producers of the film to task for irresponsibility in distorting reality merely to obtain "wild effects." Certainly, there is a total disregard of credibility in it, but a motion picture so perfect in execution and so thoroughly entertaining as The Manchurian Candidate has not been around for months.

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