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The Manchurian Candidate Still Shocks After All These Years

54 years after its original theatrical release, The Manchurian Candidate remains one of the most shocking and unsettling political thrillers of all time. It may look old, but its irreverent and imaginative treatment of various sacred cows (the military, American political leaders) is more daring than anything the studios have come up with in recent years. This may explain why The Manchurian Candidate has out-lived nearly every Hollywood film of its era, a fact that has resulted in two recent revivals: a new Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and a screening as part of this month’s Restored! series at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It didn’t take long for the film to arrive at classic status—but it had a fascinating time getting there. Here are 12 surprising anecdotes from the making of The Manchurian Candidate.

1. United Artists’ Arthur Krim felt the film was too “irresponsible” and “incendiary” to make, but he changed his mind when Frank Sinatra’s friend John F. Kennedy expressed enthusiasm for the project.


2. Nearly half of the film’s $2.2 million budget went to Sinatra.


3. Angela Lansbury was cast as the mother of Laurence Harvey’s Raymond Show, even though she was only three years older than her co-star.


4. Director John Frankenheimer had to persuade Sinatra to let him cast Lansbury instead of the actor’s surprising first choice: Lucille Ball.

5. According to Frankenheimer, Joe Adams was the first African-American actor ever cast in a role not specifically written for someone of his race.


6. During the film’s famous kung fu sequence, Sinatra suffered a finger injury that caused pain and discomfort for the rest of his life.


7. Sinatra’s speech about the deck of cards earned praise for Frankenheimer’s unconventional decision to shoot his star out of focus. In reality, this was a mistake that had to be used because Sinatra rarely permitted a second take.


8. The film earned two Oscar nominations, including one for Lansbury. However, she was defeated by Patty Duke, who won for her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.


9. It was rumoured Frank Sinatra pulled the film from theatres in response to the JFK assassination, but it had already been in release for 13 months by that time.


10. Toward the end of his life, Sinatra named The Manchurian Candidate as the best film of his career.


11. The Manchurian Candidate was remade in 2004 by Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme, thanks in part to the success of another remake based on a Sinatra movie: 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.


12. Many believed Meryl Streep based her performance in the remake on Hilary Clinton, but her real inspirations were Dick Cheney, Peggy Noonan, and Condoleezza Rice.


The digital restoration of 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on April 16 at 6:00pm. Think you’re impervious to brainwashing? Watch the re-release trailer below.