Has history finally moved ahead of The Manchurian Candidate as it turns 60 years old?
John Frankenheimer’s thriller, about a cold-war conspiracy to assassinate a political leader using a sleeper agent, managed the neat, eerie trick of looking prescient for multiple decades following its 1962 release. The murky real-life assassination of John F Kennedy the following year, the quagmire of the United States’ anti-communism involvement in the Vietnam during the 10 years that followed, general 90s-era cultural paranoia and Dick Cheney’s machinations during the George W Bush presidency were among the touchstones that looked, from certain angles, like refracted images of the film. (Jonathan Demme seemed to sense this, remaking the movie halfway through the Bush years.)
The Manchurian Candidate didn’t exactly predict any of these events, but it certainly offered a more chilling vision of the near-and-far future than say, fellow spy thriller Dr No, which kicked off the James Bond series mere weeks earlier. (Some real-life parallels were even rumored to have been the reason Candidate was mostly out of circulation for some time between its initial release and a late-80s revival, though these claims have been debunked.)
It’s the balance between heightened, sweaty pulp and documentary-like touches that makes The Manchurian Candidate both exciting and weirdly applicable to a number of different political situations; it’s just strange enough to pass for a form of truth, just distorted en