Ages ago, in the run-up to the release of Only God Forgives, the IFI were trying to drum up some interest by showing some related films in a season called "Wanna Fight?" ( this being one of Gosling's few lines in the film). One of the films shown in that season was The Manchurian Candidate. I have of course seen this before, but not for some time. My main interest on this occasion was to address a niggling doubt I have had for a while about it - the fear that maybe, just maybe, once you get away from the stunning brainwashing scene the film might actually be a bit plodding and mechanical. The brainwashing scene, with its panning camera and seamless moves from a ladies club meeting in a hotel to a lecture theatre full of Chinese and Russian spooks is one of the great scenes of cinema. But could it be that this is the one flashy moment in an otherwise predictable tale of spies and sinister communist plots? Not having seen the film in a very long time, this disturbing theory was just about credible.
But of course, I was wrong. The rest of the film is great too, driven by an intriguing and multi-layered plot and great performances in complex roles from Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Carter. Even the sinister foreign villains have a bit more pizazz to them than you might expect from an example of the Red Menace / Yellow Peril genre.
I could say more, but what would be the point? Most people have already seen this classic and they do not need me telling them how good it is. And people who have not seen it should have the pleasure of watching it for the first time without preconceptions.
Only God Forgives
An inuit panda production