Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate -- again

I mentioned a while back that, while looking for something else on Google, I had stumbled upon a copy of the script of The Manchurian Candidate. Well, I have now got around to reading said script, and a rare treat it is too.

At which point I was going to write you a lengthy and no doubt learned essay about the book, by Richard Condon (1959), and the movie (1962) directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury. But I find I don’t need to, because the bulk of the job has been done by one Louis Menand, and you can read all about it in the New Yorker.

So, just a few comments. The book is still in print, after all these years. It was a bestseller, but according to Menand it was widely regarded by the serious critics of the day as pulpy crap. Well, you and I should be lucky and talented enough to write such pulpy crap, is all I can say. And if I could find a book to read even once a month which was half as good, I wouldn’t complain. As far as I’m concerned, Condon was one hell of a writer, though his vision was uncomfortably dark at times.

The script of the film, which you can see here, was by George Axelrod. The film is available on DVD, and the DVD apparently also carries interviews with Axelrod, Frankenheimer, and Sinatra.

Page 1 of the script describes the central character, Raymond Shaw, as young, handsome, wooden, and priggish. Well, you can see straight away how Laurence Harvey got the part, can’t you?

The script reads very well. The novel has been described by the film historian David Thomson as ‘a book written so that an idiot could film it,’ and some say that Condon wrote it with the film version ever in mind. He had, after all, worked in Hollywood for years. But I don’t think it was that simple myself. For my money Axelrod and Frankenheimer did exceptional jobs.

According to Menand, ‘Most people know John Frankenheimer’s movie’, but I rather doubt that myself. Clever chaps who write for the New Yorker may well know of it. And boring elderly farts like the author of this blog ditto. But the average guy and gal in the street? I don’t think so. Still, soon they will have an opportunity to learn more, because Jonathan Demme has allegedly filmed a remake, which is scheduled for re-issue in July this year.

The plot of the book/film features a conspiracy to assassinate a candidate for the American presidency, and, since the film came out in 1962, one year before Kennedy was shot, there has been some debate about whether it influenced Harvey Oswald. Whether it did or it didn’t, the film disappeared from view in 1964. Menand says that Sinatra bought the rights in 1972, and removed the film from circulation entirely until 1987. For what it is worth, I once heard Sinatra tell Larry King that he hadn’t realised that he owned the rights, and he rather implied that he had had control from the beginning. But in any event, you can now read the book and see the movie. I recommend both. Whether the remake will be worth a pitcher of warm spit remains to be seen.

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