The Manchurian Candidate
Empire Australasia|June 2018

A political thriller that’s never been more timely

Andrew Male

WHAT’S FUNNIER THAN an idiotic right-wing Presidential candidate working with the Russians to help bring down his own country? 

Not much, thought Richard Condon. 

Published in 1959, Condon’s second novel, The Manchurian Candidate, was inspired by a brace of lunatic Cold War screeds: The Politician, by anti-Communist John Birch Society founder Robert Welch, which posited that President Eisenhower was a Red agent, and Brain-Washing In Red China, in which CIA propagandist Edward Hunter argued that US Korean War POWs had been “brainwashed” in Manchuria as Communist sympathisers.

Centred around an American war hero programmed by the Communists to kill a US Presidential candidate, Condon’s satire was Hollywood catnip. Director screenwriter team John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod snatched up the film rights. Frankenheimer, who came from TV, was schooled under the cold, efficient style of Sidney Lumet. Axelrod had written The Seven Year Itch, and was Rat Pack pals with Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra dug the book, and gave a copy to President Kennedy, who liked that the war-hero’s mother was a Communist operator, using her drunken Senator husband as the patsy. Most thought the buffoonish Senator Iselin was modelled on Joseph McCarthy but JFK guessed at his own 1960 Presidential rival: Richard Nixon. Either way, with Kennedy and Sinatra’s support (Frank took the lead ‘hero’ role, of Major Bennett Marco), filming began.

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