I decided to teach the film this fall never having seen it, so I watched with an eye to how it might play to the young and impressionable. Strangely, I suspect. All I had heard about it going in, aside from the barest plotline, was that Frank Sinatra had supposedly done his best acting for the picture on first takes and that there were scenes where things were deliberately out of focus. I'm not sure either of those tidbits are true. I will say this: the fact that the projector kept going out focus served to enhance whatever shots may have been deliberately blurry.
The trick of the film is to make you realize that "brainwashing" is a lot more diffused -- not to mention diffuse -- than the main plot indicates. All the characters seem programmed to respond to certain cues. I especially like the scene at the end of the picture where Frank Sinatra's Major Marco and his superior interrupt their desperate search for the missing Raymond Shaw to salue the American flag during "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's clear that they can't help themselves.
The main plot reinforces American paranoia about communists while the film's details are arranged in a manner that actively subverts the anti-communist fervor of a thinly hooded McCarthyism. I kept feeling myself getting pulled in opposite directions. In this respect, The Manchurian Candidate reminded me a lot of Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.
My highlight of the evening came after the film was done. It wasn't a very good print. I'm sure I missed several important lines. On the other hand, by staying close to Fredoluv and Tim, Susan and I were able to obtain our own little piece of The Manchurian Candidate:
The end of one of the reels had become hopelessly damaged, so the supervising Loft employee made an executive decision and snipped off a few frames for us.
Tomorrow Kim and I are slated to see Jonathan Demme's remake. One or both of us will report back afterwards. I know the anticipation must be killing you.