John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV
One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
The 1980s brought a new era of robots to the cinema and our TV screens. The age of robot sidekicks was largely over, as Star Wars (1977) receded from the forefront of popular culture (although there were still some, like Bubo in Clash of the Titans ).
Robots in the 1980s were often villainous in nature, or the central protagonists. The 1980s was, in many ways, the great age of robot protagonists such as Voltron, the Guardians of the Gobots, and the Transformers.
“Tarzan and the City of Sorcery,” Tarzan saves an imperiled boy from a lion, and
then learns that his father has been transformed into a baboon by an evil and deceptive queen,
Nubia who claims to possess magic powers.
her city, Nubia’s people worship Tarzan as a 400 year old jungle God, and so Nubia perceives the king of the jungle as a threat to her power.
this fact, Tarzan must convince the people that Nubia possesses no magic and is
merely fooling them. He is pitted against the Mighty Luxor, a crocodile, but
eventually his wisdom and reason carry the day (along with a bit of help from
Tarzan’s animal friends).
and the City of Sorcery” is a middling entry in the series if for no other
reason that it features familiar -- or stock -- characters and situations. We have already
encountered evil queens aplenty on the series, and Tarzan has come to the aid
of many a young stranger. He's also led several insurrections of "the people" against autocratic leaders.
Tarzan has already traveled to several intriguing “lost worlds,” and helped set
them on a path of freedom and dignity. Already in the series we have seen an underwater kingdom, a Roman kingdom, a Viking kingdom, and now -- this week -- an Egyptian-styled one.
And speaking of familiar or stock material, Filmation’s
Flash Gordon (1979) also featured an episode in which the hero (Flash, in that
circumstance) traveled to a faraway kingdom, only to learn that his
doppelganger is worshiped there, in stone form, as a God.
there are some worthwhile points in this particular episode of Tarzan. It is
interesting that Tarzan, a man of nature, is constantly called upon to be the
voice of rationality and science, for example. He notes (quite rightly) that “Not
being able to explain something does not make it magic.
final speech to the no-longer cowed populace is also inspiring (if
heavy-handed): “The greatest magic of all: intelligence and love for one
“Bitter Herbs,” Billy Batson (Michael Gray) and Mentor (Les Tremayne) get lost,
and a tire on their RV blows out. Captain Marvel repairs it.
Later, the Elders
summon Billy and tell him that no one should “judge someone because he worships differently.”
the repair, the duo continue on their journey to visit Jack Michaels, an old
friend, who is also Jewish. After their arrival, Mento and Billy meet Jack's teenage son, Yale (David Gruner), and learn that a local racist, Orin Clyde
(Landen Chiles) is discriminating against the boy, refusing to let him a club
called the Overlanders. He sabotages Yale's bike, and puts salt water in his canteen in an attempt to dissuade him from sticking with the club.
as Billy finds out, Orin is smuggling stolen art across the Mexican border. Again, it’s a job for Captain Marvel.
episode of Filmation’s Saturday morning series, Shazam (1974-1976),
takes on anti-Semitism.
In particular, a man named Orin says of Jews that “They’re
different from us,” and that he doesn’t want “any Jews” in his club. It's pretty ugly, but also true. We all know that there are people who not only belive this kind of poison, but express their ignorant views for others to hear.
kind of overt prejudice goes up against the words of the Elders, and the episode's
conclusion is that “people must learn to understand” that not everyone is the
same, or shares the same sets of beliefs.
of this material is handled in a manner appropriate for Saturday morning
entertainment of the 1970s, but like last week’s show, the episode feels the
need to include a kind of criminal subplot too.
So Orin, played by Linden Chiles, is not only a bigot, but a criminal who is smuggling art. The action scene this week involves Mr. Clyde
– the bigot – contending with a mountain lion, and Captain Marvel saving him.
jamming together of the two plots makes for a fast-paced episode, of course,
but I can’t help but wonder if the point of the show is somewhat lost.
Bigots are bad people, but not all bigots are
criminals. The truly insidious thing about prejudice is that sometimes it is
expressed where and when you don’t expect it. By a family member at an event. At a friend’s house. Or by our leaders in Congress, or in the White House.
These people are ignorant
and wrong to carry such beliefs, but they may not also be a criminal, an actual
law breaker. I fear that young people
watching this episode would conflate the two ideas and not understand the distinction. They might believe that
only criminals are bigots, when in truth prejudice runs deep and wide across a swath of people,
some of whom have never broken a single law.
“There’s been abroad
in this land in recent months a whisper that we have somehow lost our
greatness; that we do not have the strength to win without war the struggles
for liberty throughout the world. This
is slander, because our country is strong. Strong enough to be a peacemaker. It
is proud. Proud enough to be patient.
The whisperers and the detractors, the violent men are wrong. We will
remain strong and proud, proud and patient, and we will see a day when on this
Earth all men will walk out of the tunnels of tyranny into the bright sunshine
-Seven Days in May (1964),written by Rod Serling; directed by
Seven Days in May, a film, penned by Twilight Zone (1959-1961) creator Rod Serling is based on a
1962 best-selling novel that concerns an attempted military coup of the U.S.
government by an extreme right-wing, four star general.
the tale depicted in The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May is
actually an unusual -- and often uncomfortable -- fusion of historical
inspiration, and speculation that, given the vantage point of time, reads like
Days in May looks to historical figures and events for the nature and
details of its villain, the treasonous General Scott (Burt Lancaster).
simultaneously, the 1964 film forecasts the future (or rather, the now…) in terms of right-wing outrage
over any U.S. President or agenda not to its ideological preference.
you may have noticed if you’ve been conscious at all for the last eight years,
it’s not just that the President’s agenda is wrong to these folks, it is that it is illegitimate and dangerous, and
that the Commander-in-chief is actually traitor (or “other”) for possessing
non-right wing values and beliefs.
have seen this very dynamic recur in at least three presidencies in modern
times, and Seven Days in May -- in a brilliantly-worded finale -- exposes such
narcissistic “patriotism” for what it really often is: sedition and treason.
simply can’t lay claim to being a patriotic American citizen if your sole
mission in life is to destroy the legally elected U.S. President.
Days in May
gives us two military men, both right-wingers, and allows us to compare them,
side-by-side (much as The Manchurian Candidate provided us
two right wing senators -- Harding and Iselin -- and afforded audiences the
same type of comparison).
right-wing soldier in Seven Days in May, played by Kirk
Douglas, understands his duty, and obligation under the law, to serve the
Commander-in-Chief, even though he disagrees with the president’s politics. Douglas’s Casey is able to put his personal
belief system aside and trust in the people who sent the President to office.
then there is another right-wing soldier, the aforementioned Scott (Lancaster),
who plots a revolution to substitute his own judgment for that of the lawfully
elected U.S. President. Duty is not what calls Scott. Evangelical certainty,
and moral self-righteousness are his only guideposts.
Days in May is
a battle between these two men and their competing visions. One man serves his
country, and realizes that to be President is to see things in a different way
than a general, or soldier might.
other man serves only his ideology (and thus his vanity). In serving this idol,
he steps over the will expressed by the American people.
Days in May is
disturbing -- and tautly edited -- as the exquisite screenplay by Serling
fleshes out the details of the coup attempt, and the President’s last-ditch attempt
to hold onto the sacred responsibility that “We the People” entrusted him with.
Manchurian Candidate, this film may feel dated to some today, in part
because the Halls of Power featured in Seven Days in Men are populated
exclusively by white men, and in part because the depiction of Eleanor Holbrooke
(Ava Gardner) is a bit patronizing. She is treated, even by Casey, as a child;
one who can’t select for herself how she should live, or who she should be.
again -- as I always like to point out -- films are made in a historical context.
true that Seven Days in May has seen time pass it by in some ways. But
Manchurian Candidate, it
seems to resonate more fully today than it has in some recent
years. In some fashion, it has been
passed by modern contexts, and in other ways Seven Days in May is
again frighteningly timely.
in God's name, do we elect a man president and then try to see how fast we can
Marine Colonel Jiggs
Casey (Kirk Douglas), through happenstance and coincidence, discovers that his
superior, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Scott (Lancaster) is
moving men and equipment in preparation for a coup in just a matter of days.
In just a week, Scott
and those he commands will seize all television and radio communication in the
United States, using a secretly-funded and secretly-manned unit, ECOMCON (Emergency
Communications Control) to usurp authority from the historically unpopular
President, Jordan Lyman (Fredric March).
Scott’s reason for
the coup is simple. He disagrees with a disarmament treaty between the Soviet
Union and the United States that the President supports and wishes to see
ratified. Many Americans feel just as he
does, and many of them protest outside the White House.
everything he knows about the coup attempt to the President, and Lyman’s chief
of staff, Paul Girard (Martin Balsam).
Girard rejects the tale as paranoid fantasy, but the President realizes
he can’t afford to be caught flat-footed, and organizes a brigade of trusted
aides to help him determine where he stands.
As everyone is quick
to realize, General Scott controls the military, and therefore possesses force.
The President’s great power, by contrast, is the moral authority of his office,
and the Constitution.
Girard is killed in
a suspicious plane crash while soliciting the aid of a Navy officer (John
Houseman) who refused to be part of the coup.
President’s friend, Senator Raymond Clark of Georgia (Edmond O’Brien) is held
in custody by Scott’s men when he attempts to find the secret ECOMCON base.
Casey is ordered,
against his will, to hunt down incriminating love letters from Scott to his
former lover, Eleanor (Ava Gardner), so that the President, if necessary, can “slime”
his enemy with them.
absolutely resists this option -- realizing it works against his moral
authority -- and instead demands, in a face-to-face meeting, Scott’s
But Scott is not
ready to give up his grab for power just yet…
from this…desperation we look for a champion in red, white and blue. Every now
and then, a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our
personal god for the duration.”
Seven Days in May opens with a pan down across the United States Constitution. The
writing on the document is large enough, and clear enough that we can read
As the camera pans
down this founding document, the numerals 1 to 7 are scrawled hastily and
awkwardly over it, in black writing.
suggests that in just seven days, the Constitution can be desecrated, if Scott’s
plan is carried out.
The writing over the
founding document is thus akin to graffiti, despoiling the image of the
And this optical “superimposition”
of graffiti, of writing, over our Constitution also serves as a metaphor for
Scott’s actions. By planning to take power from the President, and from the
people who elected him, he is similarly spoiling or betraying America. We see the Constitution literally soiled. And
we see Scott’s plan to trample it.
After this dynamic
and effective opening, Seven Days in
May cuts to a protest outside the White House as it becomes violent.
On one side of the
divide are the folks who see the disarmament treaty as a cowardly, treacherous
On the other are
those who agree with Lyman, and view the treaty as a way to help secure peace
in our (nuclear) age. Frankenheimer’s camera takes us right into the scuffle
with a shaky cam, quick cuts, and very informal camera work. This approach
makes the protest surprisingly visceral, and also has the effect of making us
feel under siege; like we are there, experiencing the protest and the blows ourselves.
This technique is
perfect because, of course, we are there. We all grapple with issues like this,
on a daily basis. We all stand to win or
lose, depending on how things turn out, depending on what our leaders decide.
These two scenes, in
tandem, create quite an ominous or tense mood right out of the gate. First, we
see our most revered founding document desecrated, and then we see civil debate
break down into irreconcilable violence.
Together, these two
moments light the match, the fuse that burns throughout Seven Days in May right up until the film’s cathartic and
uplifting final speech by Lyman, a true statesman.
In terms of its
approach to history, Seven Days in
May has clearly selected some historical inspirations for Scott, the
self-aggrandizing “patriot” who is convinced, primarily, of his own
Some critics (and
indeed, Frankenheimer himself), view Scott as a Senator McCarthy figure. McCarthy,
as I wrote in another review, led a witch-hunt against “Communist infiltrators” in the
U.S. Government to make, actually, a name for himself.
Other see Scott as a
corollary for General Edwin Walker, a man whom President Eisenhower chastised
for putting his own personal politics above his duty. Eisenhower asked for, and
received, Walker’s resignation.
Today, men of this
still with us, putting their personal religious beliefs and views on
ideology ahead of their job as military men or advisors to the government. So,
Seven Days in May has not created Scott out of whole cloth in some
attempt to discredit people on the right side of the political spectrum. Instead, a straight line can be drawn from
men like McCarthy, and Walker to Scott…and then people in the present time.
And again, we have
the example of Casey. He is from the same political party and belief system as
Scott, but he is not a demagogue or an ideologue. He is a patriot who sees the system as wise, and protects it from desecration.
What Seven Days in May also gets
right is the long, historical -- and let’s face it -- disgraceful attempt to
dismiss and diminish peace efforts (and treaties, specifically) as insidious
weak-kneed methods by which Presidents plan to destroy America.
Think this is a
belief that only occurs in fiction?
skepticism with which President Reagan -- a conservative! -- was greeted, by
right-wingers in 1988, when
attempting to get a disarmament treaty with Russia through the Senate. One senator said, almost word for word, in
that meeting, what Scott says to Lyman in Seven
Days in May, beginning with the assertion “The Soviets have broken most every treaty they have ever
Seven Days in May cannily includes a Senator (Whit Bissell) in the conspiracy “loop”
with Scott, and goes just one step further: making the mutiny and treason
manifest as a military take-over.
however, Seven Days in May
gets right the notion we see so often in our national discourse; that people
are loudly patriotic only so long as their party and beliefs are in power.
When they are not in
power, what do they do? How do they act? What do they say?
They talk down America.
specifically, that America is no longer great. They say it is weak. (And only
they can make it strong again. Not with their action, but with their “beliefs.”)
Posted at the top of
the review is the speech by President Lyman in Seven Days in May, which addresses this terrible quality,
the diminishing of America to score political points…even when the whole world
rightly reports exactly what this kind of talk really is.
It is “slander,” he declares.
America is great. Great enough to
be both strong and patient, and to seek ways out of wars, rather than finding
excuses for fighting them.
That speech calls
out men who purport to be patriots but actually root against America when their
team isn’t in power.
Lyman has another
great moment in the film. He is baffled
-- as often I am -- by the hatred of these so-called patriots for the very government
they claim to revere.
He reports: “You
have such a fervent, passionate, evangelical faith in this country. Why in the
name of God don’t you have any faith in the system of government you’re so hell
bent to protect?”
That’s a good
And one we should all still be asking, even fifty
years since Seven Days in May’s premiere.
are people who think of Johnny as a clown and a buffoon, but I do not. I
despise John Iselin and everything that Iselin-ism has come to stand for. I
think, if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more harm to
this country than he’s doing now.”
Manchurian Candidate (1962)
every presidential election, the term “Manchurian Candidate” gets lobbed like a
hand grenade -- by the press, and voters -- at some aspiring politico who is
feared to possess allegiances beyond the American populace.
a candidate -- a Manchurian one -- is widely defined as an individual “seeking elective office who appears to
support one thing or group, but is actually supportive of another thing, or
1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate concerns a hard-right-wing
candidate, Johnny Iselin, who was secretly (and perhaps unwittingly) the tool
for Russian and Chinese communist interests.
These foreign powers, in the film, interfered in
an American presidential election using brainwashing and murder.
on one hand, the film’s candidate, Iselin -- described as “a
clown and a buffoon” in the dialogue -- is a McCarthy-like hunter of
communists who makes rousing, patriotic speeches. But
on the other hand we have the knowledge that this candidate is a craven, grasping,
hapless tool controlled by insidious foreign forces that stand to benefit -- or
be rewarded -- by his election to the highest office in the land.
in 1962, the John Frankenheimer film (based on the novel by Richard Condon) was
generally considered far-fetched, imaginative, and wild in its plot and details.
was remade in 2004, but it is the black-and-white 1960s effort which remains
the superior work of art, in part because of the director’s careful use of
symbolism (mainly images of Americana), and in part because of its use of
contradictions, in terms of character and plotting, to constantly engender
surprise and shock.
true that the film has aged some, as all works of art do.
Instead of casting a
Korean man in a crucial supporting role, for instance, the filmmakers cast
Henry Silva…a Sicilian, in that role. When this character speaks, he does so in
the kind of broken English you hear in black-and-white World War II movies.
Accordingly, the performance doesn’t translate well to today’s more
culturally-aware context. Similarly,
there’s a talk, late in the film, of sending a Christmas card to a Buddhist
that is, if not in bad taste, at least unnecessarily insensitive.
are very small things, however, when one considers the remarkable artistry of
the film, and its weirdly prophetic nature.
all, consider the following: This film not only predicted the idea of a sort of
right-wing double-agent running for President, but imagined -- the year before
the assassination of JFK -- how a “loner” (or patsy) could possibly be
harnessed to inflict terrorism on a population.
“It’s the most rousing speech I’ve ever read.
It’s been worked on, here and in Russia, on and off, for over eight years.”
1952, during the Korean War, a troop of nine American soldiers are captured by
Russian forces, and helicoptered into Manchuria, where they are brainwashed by
a scientist from the Pavlov Institute.
those captured are Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence
Harvey), step-son of Communist-bashing, right-wing U.S. Senator Johnny Iselin
soldiers are returned to the U.S. believing a false story that Raymond saved
their lives. He is decorated for this act of (fictional) gallantry, but in
truth, he is now an agent acting against the United States, though he does not
he is triggered to obey his American handler (his mother [Angela Lansbury])
when he sees a Red Queen in a deck of playing cards.
by nightmares of his brainwashing experience, Bennett Marco investigates
Raymond Shaw in his capacity as a military officer. He comes to befriend
Raymond, a not very “loveable” or likeable loner.
Raymond is ordered to kill a U.S. Senator Harding (John McGiver), and Harding’s
daughter, Jocelyn (Leslie Parrish) -- Raymond’s new wife -- he must obey. But his hatred for his mother grows.
he learns that he is to be the assassin at a political convention, and pave the
way for a “Manchurian” candidate, Raymond acts of his own accord, and earns the
medal that his country awarded him.
on the point of winning for them the greatest foothold they would ever have in
this country. And they paid me back by taking your soul away from you…”
I have described The Manchurian Candidate as prophetic, it also takes
inspiration from recent American history.
character of Johnny Iselin is clearly based on Republican senator Joseph
McCarthy (1908-1989); a homegrown demagogue who made a name for himself in the U.S.
Senate, and across the nation for his accusation that the U.S. Government had
been infiltrated by communist agents and sympathizers.
undertook a witch-hunt to find and slime his enemies on those terms (as Angela
Lansbury does in The Manchurian Candidate), and at one point claimed he had a
list of “205 names” representing communist sympathizers in the U.S. Government.
Later, he claimed to possess a paper with “57” such names instead.
Manchurian Candidate, Iselin first claims “207 names” and then, after
seeing a bottle of Heinz 57 Ketchup, likewise modifies his claim to “57”
shift to 57 is both a biting attack against McCarthy, and a joke at the same
time. The number 57 is easy for Iselin to remember because of effective product
placement. It appears on a ketchup bottle. And like Heinz and its ketchup,
Iselin is similarly advertising himself as a kind of brand name: a brave communist
Manchurian Candidate suggests, via Iselin’s comical inability to settle
on a particular number of communist infiltrators, is that the man is indeed a
clown and buffoon, but a dangerous one who has the full attention of the
record and mindlessly transmit across the nation (via TV) the McCarthy-like
senator’s every accusation, and that’s the point. Iselin is a huckster, but one
who understands how to manipulate television and thus make a name for himself.
Mrs. Iselin notes, no one questions that there are communist sympathizers in
the government after Johnny Iselin’s televised “stunt.” They only question the number of them. In
political conversations and rallies, lies are accepted as facts, even without
evidence, if they are repeated often enough. It's fake news.
Manchurian Candidate comments on, then, is the dangerous power of the Mass
Media to not only inform, but to mis-inform. The press can spread truth, or fiction with
equal power. It can highlight the words
of a statesman, or an unrepentant, attention-hungry liar. Many people in the audience cannot discern which
they are seeing, honest patriot, or serial liar. That’s a big problem
for democracy, and one not easily solved.
after all, gets the vice-presidential nomination of his party in the film, not
for statesmanship, not for political accomplishments, but for his crusade to
find communists in the U.S. Government, a crusade built entirely on fictional accusations. His lies are his experience. His lies are his portfolio. And he nearly
rises to the highest office of the land based on those lies.
simply Americana, but specifically of our sixteenth President.
reflection, for example, is seen in a Lincoln portrait at one point. And at a party
for his son and Jocelyn, Iselin actually dresses as Lincoln. Throughout the
film, busts of Lincoln are seen in the Iselin study too.
associate a McCarthy-esque charlatan with Abraham Lincoln, a man for whom so
many hold such high esteem?
some scholars have suggested that the
Iselins have selected Lincoln as a paragon to hide behind. They have gone
overboard with their Lincoln love, only to cloak their true anti-American
re-screening the film, I think there’s more specific commentary here. After
McCarthy - and especially today -- one must ask: what has happened to the party of Lincoln?
was the party that freed the slaves and ended slavery in America. How has it
gone from the heights of Lincoln to the depths represented by McCarthy?
has it gone from holding the fabric of a nation together, to manipulating the
press to tear that fabric apart for individual or personal gain?
multitudinous images of Lincoln throughout the film remind us how the noble
have fallen, how a party has fallen from greatness. It’s not just that the
Iselins’ hide behind Lincoln, it’s that they use his party as a base from which
to launch an attack on the greatness of our nation. They appear to be extreme
patriots, and are, in fact, betrayers.
also associates the Iselins’ nemesis (a very responsible and noble member of
the party of Lincoln, by contrast…), with a symbol of Americana even more
ingrained in our national psyche than that of Lincoln: the bald eagle.
Raymond declares his desire to marry Jocelyn, Senator Harding is seen in front
of a huge symbol of a bald eagle, with wings unfurled.
These wings seem to sprout, literally, from his shoulders. Similar eagle imagery is seen in association with him, later. When Raymond is a programmed assassin, he crosses the threshold into Harding's kitchen to murder the senator. Over the threshold, the symbol of an American Eagle is visible. If Iselin is a corruption of the Republic party, Harding is the party's (and nation's paragon).
In the latter example, the symbol of the eagle showcases Raymond's point of transgression. The murder of Harding is the murder of liberty.
Also, consider the symbolism of Iselin wiping his cracker across the surface of a cake decorated as Old Glory, the American flag. It's a desecration. Just as Iselin's rise to office is a desecration to democracy, the Constitution, and to America.
what does the film’s symbolism reveal to us then, if taken in conjunction?
is a McCarthy-esque demagogue who, if elected, would take the party of Lincoln
down, and literally serve a foreign power. Harding, by contrast (a man of the
same party) understands the real spirit of America, even though Mrs. Iselin has
called him a “communist.”
battle in the film is thus between those who stoop to exploit patriotism and
nationalism, and those who understand the real, true values of America, and
seek to protect it.
similarly, appears to be a loner and assassin, but he is actually the
courageous savior of American freedom, appropriately eulogized in the film’s
wrote in my introduction about the contradictions in The Manchurian Candidate,
and how well they function to craft this particular.
in this film, we meet a man who is a bitter, nasty loner, but who desires only
to be lovable. Everyone seems to hate him, and he is a pawn of the villains.
But, as noted above, he gives his life to save our country. So the jerk and brainwashed assassin is also
a great patriot, taking matters into his own hands when he knows the army and
police are too late to act.
also meet a nefarious communist scientist/agent, who loves a good joke. He is
no Fu Manchu stereotype, but a jolly man who loves a good guffaw, and
encourages humor in his compatriots. He doesn’t present as dastardly, but as
we encounter a monstrous (and indeed, incestuous…) woman who hides behind the
imagery of Abraham Lincoln, and calls out other Americans as communists when,
in fact, she is a communist agent herself.
of the joy inherent in viewing this film, even several times, is grappling with
these contradictions, and the way they simultaneously shade and reflect
character, or identity.
are we to make of the eerie coincidence that Jocelyn shows up at the masquerade
party as the Red Queen, the very figure that “activates” Raymond, the wolf in
years, many have also speculated about Janet Leigh’s character, who befriends
Marco and engages in a weird conversation with him that also seems to suggest,
at least tangentially, that she is a spy sent to handle him.
my friends, is a film with layers, and the contradictions are part of that
layering. We are asked to look beyond the surface, and search for the truth.
let’s face it, these contradictions are also a key part of the down-and-dirty
fighting of American political campaigns.
records people and events, but it can’t tell us who is lying, or who is being
truthful. It can’t expose the contradictions for us. We have to be smart. We have to be critical thinkers.
Unfortunately, the camera goes to the loudest blowhard, not the smartest or most judicious
individual. Our very media, our method
of discourse, appears to encourage and reward extreme behavior, and the most extreme candidates.
The Manchurian Candidate saw this problem clearly more than a
half-century ago (as did A Face in the Crowd in 1957.)
is a well-made, well-filmed effort. Consider, the moment, for instance, at the
Lady’s Garden Club, when the true nature of the event is exposed. Frankenheimer’s
camera goes around in a circle. Upon the completion of the circle, the ladies
have been replaced by the communist agents and audience.
consider the karate fight sequence, between Silva and Sinatra, which is masterfully
choreographed and cut, and starts with a kind of lightning bolt or shock, as Marco recognizes Silva's character.
film’s craftsmanship holds up well in terms of relating the twisting narrative
to audiences, but the production’s use of symbol-laden imagery makes it a
document of value and enduring truth in terms of understanding American politics.
The Manchurian Candidate reminds
us that the most independent, patriotic voice in the room -- or on camera -- may
not, in the final analysis, be either independent or patriotic.