The Manchurian Candidate opens
John Frankenheimer's political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, which opened October 24, 1962, perfectly captured the anxiety of the Cold War with its tale of U.S. servicemen being brainwashed for future deployment by the Soviets. Lawrence Harvey plays Sergeant Raymond Shaw, a soldier captured in Korea and programmed to be an unwitting assassin. Frank Sinatra is Major Bennett Marco, who has gotten wind of the plot and wants to stop him. Based on Richard Condon's book, the film was a critical and commercial success, and it spawned a remake in 2007 by Jonathan Demme. Still, perhaps its greatest contribution to our political debate has been to unnerve conspiracy-minded American citizens with the menace of its concept. The words "Manchurian Candidate" now refer less to a film than to the idea that foreign governments have infiltrated our body politic. (Ironically, of course, it was the CIA in experiments like MKULTRA who conducted the most ambitious experiments in psychological reprogramming.) Over the years, both the right and left have hypothesized their own Manchurian Candidates, ranging from lowly Al Qaeda sleeper cells to mainstream political figures like John McCain, George Bush, and, of course, Barack Obama.