The Manchurian Candidate

MGM Home Entertainment, $14.95

RELEASED JULY 13 in anticipation of Jonathan Demme's remake (see review, page 77), Candidate is one of those great films with a troubled legacy. JFK loved the 1959 novel by Richard Condon and pestered his buddy Frank Sinatra after the star acquired the rights to the book. "He was really interested in the facts of the project," Sinatra says in a short conversation with director John Frankenheimer and writer George Axelrod, conducted in 1988. That's when the film went to screen again and to VHS. The sit-down is included with a few other extras on this single-platter package; most valuable among them is Frankenheimer's commentary. No one dwells too long on the 26-year gap in the film's history because everyone knows the cause—the JFK assassination resembled the movie's plot and tainted it for a generation of filmgoers.

Newer viewers may be startled by how much funnier and more generally satiric the Frankenheimer film is than the Demme version, which reserves its scorn for Halliburton—oops, I mean the fictional corporate villain plotting a White House coup. For Condon, and Frankenheimer, there's plenty of ridicule to go around. The grunts in Korea with Sinatra and Laurence Harvey are introduced in a brothel. Communists get all the best jokes. The spirit is somewhat similar to Condon's contemporary, Terry Southern, and to another signal Cold War satire to which Southern contributed—Dr. Strangelove.

Still, there's no mistaking that, as Frankenheimer says, Candidate "was the first movie to take on Sen. McCarthy." He further explains how the novel's original satiric abyss was clarified somewhat to serve his (and Sinatra's) cautionary political agenda. In print, Sinatra's character is actually part of the Manchurian plot. There, too, Harvey's son actually sleeps with his mother. So if anyone complains that Demme has taken liberties with Frankenheimer, remember Frankenheimer did the same with Condon.

ONE FILM WE DON'T want to see remade is Showgirls, released in a new box set of smut July 27. Better are Bill Plympton's animated 1992 The Tune and the French thriller The Father (released last year as How I Killed My Father, but not here in Seattle). Hellboy is a better comic-book adaptation than Spider-Man 2. Neil Young's Greendale will primarily interest his fans. The week's biggest release is the great original 1978 BBC mini­series Pennies From Heaven, written by Dennis Potter and starring Bob Hoskins, which puts the American remake in its place.

Brian Miller

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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