Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)
"But now, we have come almost to the end."
Thank God this film was resurrected after its long disappearance following the Kennedy assassination and the ensuing legal battle over rights to profits. Frank Sinatra gives his finest performance as the brainwashed POW who begins, in nightmares, to recall the mental torture he and his fellow officers underwent. A nice twist is put on the character of Laurence Harvey's assassin--rather than conscripting an affable fellow for the part, the enemy has engaged the son of its traitorous stateside comrade, who just happens to be cold and intensely unlikable. Harvey's work is more than adequate in what is largely a thankless role. Janet Leigh's enigmatic girlfriend provides one of the film's more intriguing plotlines. Who is she? From where did she come? Is she just an offbeat character who happened to meet Sinatra on the train? Or is he another assassin, and she his controller (thus explaining her obtuse speech)? The film never explains any of this, only makes subtle suggestions, making her character all the more tantalizing.
But, of course, this is Angela Lansbury's film. As the ruthless, conniving Senator's wife and Harvey's mother, she exhibits a sense of bravado, of cold, calculating menace, that has rarely been rivaled. In her thirst for power, she holds everyone in contempt--her husband, the voters, the government, and the enemy with whom she collaborates. And when she discovers she has been double-crossed by the programming of her son as the assassin, the controlled madness she summons in response is truly terrifying. This astringent political satire, though using the era's McCarthyism as a jumping-off point, rings just as true today, over four decades later. A sadly underwatched classic that ripens with age.