Filmsite Movie Review
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The psychiatrist in Army Intelligence deduces that the solitaire game "serves as some kind of trigger mechanism," and that the focus of attention should be on the face cards "because of their symbolic identification with human beings." And with Raymond's particular psychiatric pattern, 'Jack's and 'King's could also be safely eliminated as triggers. Suddenly, Marco recollects something: "I can see that Chinese cat standin' there smiling like Fu Manchu" said - "The Queen of Diamonds is reminiscent in many ways of Raymond's dearly loved and hated mother and is the second key to clear the mechanism for any other assignment." Raymond's mother is keyed to the Queen of Diamonds in a pack of playing cards. The sight of the Queen of Diamonds transforms Raymond into his mother's slave.

Senator Iselin rehearses one of his upcoming, innumerable speeches as he sits in a make-up chair - his reflection in a small magnifying mirror held below his face provides a real expression of his position of subservience. After reassuring her pea-brained husband about what to say, the authoritarian woman reconsiders her feelings about marriage for her son by stage-managing a party to encourage his romance - for her own political purposes: "It has occurred to me that Tom Jordan's daughter I might have been a little hasty. Anyway, times change. I now think she would make Raymond an excellent wife. She's been living in Paris for the past two years. I have word she'll be coming home soon and when she does, I think we should give a little party." When the Senator recalls the past conflicts with Senator Jordan, his unscrupulous wife is completely condescending toward his own intelligence and insight:

I keep telling you not to think. You're very, very good at a great many things, but thinking, hun, just simply isn't one of them. You just keep shouting 'Point of Order,' 'Point of Order' into the television cameras and I will handle the rest.

A costume party/ball is planned at the Iselin's summer house on Long Island. Raymond is invited to attend the function, held as a coming-home party in honor of an 'old friend' - his former sweetheart Jocelyn Jordan.

The celebration opens with images of American patriotism gone mad - there is a closeup of an American flag - a hand reaches out and defaces the flag with a trowel-like shovel. It scoops up the caviar from the star pattern onto a cracker to be devoured. The hand belongs to Johnny Iselin, who is dressed with a tall stove-pipe hat and fake beard as Abe Lincoln. He excuses his desecration: "It's all right, it's Polish caviar." Mrs. Shaw, who appears as Little Bo Peep (or Mother Goose?), reaches out with her long staff and pulls his arm - an apt metaphor for her controlling nature. Raymond, who is costumed as a Spanish gaucho, is extremely nervous about meeting his long-lost girlfriend.

The scene in the study between Raymond and his mother begins with a close-up of a black bust of patriotic father figure Abraham Lincoln - one of many such witty image compositions and motifs in the film (visually linking Iselin to Honest Abe). Raymond's mother divulges that she is his American controller - an agent for the Reds: "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?" When he comes upon the Queen of Diamonds, she is unexpectedly called away and takes the card as a precaution. Jocelyn, however, finds Raymond in the study and is reunited with him - she is coincidentally (and improbably!) dressed as the Queen of Diamonds - the most appealing costume possible for him! After embracing, they depart to elope, and leave behind her card costume.

Raymond's mother proposes that Senator Jordan not block her husband's attempt, at the party's convention, to place his name into the running as a Vice-Presidential candidate. He is adamant about blocking her ambitious political plans and threatens impeachment proceedings in the Senate against her husband: "I despise John Iselin and everything that Iselin-ism has come to stand for. I think if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he's doing now."

During dinner at Rosie's place, Marco impulsively suggests: "Let's get married." Now having discovered the way to infiltrate into Raymond's mind, Marco's plan is to re-program him after a game of solitaire with a 'forced' deck: "Then a suggestion or two that will rip out all of the wiring, and then dear girl, it's over, all over." Both Marco and Rosie discover that they are orphans without parentage - a fact that Marco finds: "very sexy stuff."

The next day when he sees Shaw in his apartment, Marco learns that a joyous, joke-making, loveable Raymond has already married his "Queen of Diamonds" girl: "We flew to Maryland last night. We got married. We just got back...There we were, the Queen of Diamonds and me looking like, I don't know, like Gaucho Marx." Raymond, usually emotionally repressed, dreary, and unloveable is stupified by his own light-heartedness - he over-reacts to his own small joke with surprise and delight:

Ben, I just made a joke. Not a very good joke, I admit, but a joke. Ben, in all the years that you've known me, have you ever heard me make a joke? Well, I just made one. Gaucho Marx! Me! Ha! Big day! Mark that down in your book. Raymond Shaw got married and he made a joke. Gaucho Marx.

While Raymond is changing his clothes, Marco diagnoses Raymond's illness: "Raymond is sick, Mrs. Shaw, in a kind of a special way. He doesn't even realize it himself." On their way to a honeymoon, Jocelyn denies that her new, healthy husband is sick in any way: "He's tied up inside in a thousand knots. I know that but...You've got to believe me and trust me. I can make him well." Feeling compassion for Raymond, Marco decides to let him go, rather than having him surrender to questioning.

The morning of their honeymoon in a Bedford Village inn, Jocelyn clicks on the TV set, prompting a prophetic comment from Raymond about two very different kinds of people:

Have you noticed that the human race is divided into two distinct, irreconciliable groups? Those who walk into rooms and automatically turn television sets on, and those who walk into rooms and automatically turn them off. You know, the problem is, they usually marry each other which naturally causes a great deal of....

During a news broadcast, their romance is compared to the tragic one in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: "...Jocelyn Jordan, daughter of Senator Thomas Jordan and Korean war hero Raymond Shaw, step-son of Senator John Iselin. It appears, however, that this Montague-Capulet note would have little effect on the feud now raging between the two party leaders. From his campaign headquarters this morning, Senator Iselin stepped up his charges against the leader of the group attempting to block his nomination." In a taped excerpt, Senator Iselin accuses liberal Senator Jordan of high treason and makes a motion for impeachment and a civil trial. Violently opposed to his father, Raymond decides to return home to carry out a long-overdue mission:

Something I should have done a long time ago. I'm gonna beat that vile, slandering, son-of-a-numbskull to a bloody pulp.

The minute he is in his mother's presence (and another bust of Lincoln), however, her hand reaches for a deck of cards in a drawer and triggers him toward a "very important" deadly errand: "There's something you have to do."

In the next, brilliantly-photographed scene, a hypnotically-tranced, sleep-walking Raymond enters the Jordan townhouse in the middle of the night, and finds Senator Jordan fixing a mid-night snack in the kitchen for himself. Shaw calmly pulls out a revolver with a silencer, holding it at his side as the Senator removes a carton of milk from the refrigerator. A low angle shot captures the image of the gun and an American eagle above Raymond's head. The bullet from the gun blasts through the carton and hits his father-in-law in the heart - 'mother's' milk flows out in one stream from the bullet hole made in the carton. [Jordan, a principled and pure symbol of lily-white liberal Americanism, bleeds white milk instead of red blood.] Raymond also turns and kills his new bride - his Queen of Diamonds - as she rushes down the stairs toward him. Still sleepwalking, he leaves behind two bodies and staggers out of the house after the cold-blooded murders.

The next morning's New York Post, carried by Major Marco, displays the awful headlines: "Senator Jordan and Daughter Found Slain." Nauseated and disoriented by the news (conveyed by a slightly off-balance camera angle), Marco deduces the truth and guiltily takes some of the blame: "Raymond Shaw shot and killed his wife early this morning...It wasn't Raymond that really did it. In a way, it was me."

In a hotel room overlooking the political convention to be held at Madison Square Garden, a grief-stricken Raymond phones Marco and identifies his location. Armed with only a special deck of cards (composed of 52 Queens of Diamonds), Marco finds his victimized war buddy and asks the familiar question: "How about passing the time by playing a little solitaire?" When Raymond deals his first card, a Queen of Diamonds, the card now becomes an antidote for his condition. Marco begins to "clear" and de-brain-wash Raymond's programmed, pitifully dehumanized mind, and learns the truth of their experiences in Manchuria:

Marco: All right, let's start unlocking a few doors. Let's begin with the patrol. You didn't save our lives and take out an enemy company or anything like that, did you Raymond, did you?
Raymond: No.
Marco: What happened?
Raymond: The patrol was taken by a Russian Airborne Unit and flown by helicopter across the Manchurian border to a place called Tomwa. We were worked on for three days by a team of specialists from the Pavlov Institute in Moscow. They developed a technique for descent into the unconscious mind, part light-induced, part drug...

[A closeup of Marco's face in this sequence, first appearing here, is accidentally out-of-focus, yet perfectly represents Raymond's fuzzy and blurry point-of-view perspective.]

Marco: (interrupting) Never mind all that. Not now. Tell me what else happened at Tomwa.
Raymond: We were drilled for three days. We were made to memorize the details of the imaginary action...And I strangled Ed Mavole and shot Bobby Lembeck.
Marco: One red queen works pretty good. Let's see what we get with two of 'em. Keep playing. (Shaw deals out the solitaire hand and turns over a second queen)
Shaw: Then I killed Mr. Gaines. It was just a test. It didn't matter who I killed. They picked him to see if all the linkages still worked before they turned me over to my American operator. That business about jumping in the lake - it really did happen. It was an accident. Something somebody said in the bar accidentally triggered it.
Marco: Keep playing!
Shaw: Then I killed Senator Jordan and after that...
Marco: You are to forget everything that happened at the Senator's house. Do you understand, Raymond? You'll only remember it when I tell you so. You are to forget about it. Do you understand?
Shaw: Yes sir.
Marco: Now Raymond. Now the big one. Why, why is all of this being done? What have they built you to do?
Shaw: I don't know. I don't think anybody really knows except Berezovo in Moscow and my American operator here. But whatever it is, it's supposed to happen soon, right at the convention. Maybe, (pause), I don't know. They can make me do anything, Ben, can't they? Anything.
Marco: We'll see, kid, we'll see what they can do and we'll see what we can do.So the red Queen is our baby. Well, take a look at this, kid. Fifty-two of them. Take a good look at 'em, Raymond. Look at 'em.

Marco fans a fistful lineup of out-of-focus red Queens in front of Shaw's face and speaks to him in the space between the cards:

And while you're looking, listen. This is me, Marco talking. Fifty-two red Queens and me are telling you - you know what we're telling you? - it's over. The links, the beautifully-conditioned links are smashed. They're smashed as of now because we say so, because we say they oughta be smashed. We're bustin' up the joint, we're tearin' out all the wires, we're bustin' it up so good all the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men will never put ol' Raymond back together again. You don't work anymore. That's an order. Anybody invites you to a game of solitaire - you tell 'em: 'Sorry, buster, the ball-game is over!'

Has Raymond has been successfully deprogrammed? Has the sinister conspiracy embedded within him been brought out? Has his spell been lifted and have his 'puppet strings' been sufficiently pulled?

The phone rings - the call is from Raymond's American operator - it's time for him to receive the plan. To Marco's shock, Raymond mechanized mind takes commands and instructions from his own monstrous mother!: "Yes, yes I understand, mother." As Raymond leaves from Marco's surveillance for a short while until later that evening when the convention reconvenes for acceptance speeches, Marco reminds him: "Remember Raymond, the wires have been pulled. They can't touch you anymore. You're free."

At his mother's house, Shaw's corrupt and perverse maternal figure - with an insatiable lust for power - describes the task and arrangements for him, while seated next to Jocie's giant Queen of Diamonds costume. He is to assassinate the Presidential nominee during the political convention - a catastrophe that would advance Raymond's step-father's political career and pave the way for a legal takeover of the White House:

It's been decided that you will be dressed as a priest to get away in the pandemonium afterwards. Chunjin will give you a two-piece Soviet Army's sniper's rifle that fits nicely into a special bag. There's a spotlight booth that won't be in use. It's up under the roof on the 8th Avenue side of the Garden. You will have absolutely clear, protected shooting. You are to shoot the Presidential nominee through the head. And Johnny will rise gallantly to his feet and lift Ben Arthur's body in his arms, stand in front of the microphones and begin to speak. The speech is short, but it's the most rousing speech I've ever read. It's been worked on here and in Russia on and off for over eight years. I shall force someone to take the body away from him. And Johnny will leave those microphones and those cameras with blood all over him, fighting off anyone who tries to help him, defending America even if it means his own death, rallying a nation of television-viewers into hysteria to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy. Now this is very important. I want the nominee to be dead about two minutes after he begins his acceptance speech, depending on his reading time under pressure. You are to hit him right at the point that he finishes the phrase, 'nor would I ask of any fellow American in defense of his freedom that which I would not gladly give myself - my life before my liberty.' Is that absolutely clear?

After having him repeat the key phrase - his cue to assassinate the target, she strokes her passive child's hair and grasps his hands. She apologizes for the fact that the Soviet/Asian brainwashers chose him - her beloved son, as an assassin for their purposes. To take revenge on her fellow Communists for brainwashing him, she assuringly promises her son that they will be eliminated after her take-over of Presidential power:

I know you will never entirely comprehend this, Raymond, but you must believe I did not know it would be you. I served them. I fought for them. I'm on the point of winning for them the greatest foothold they would ever have in this country. And they paid me back by taking your soul away from you. I told them to build me an assassin. I wanted a killer from a world filled with killers and they chose you because they thought it would bind me closer to them. (She places the sides of his face in her outstretched hands.) But now, we have come almost to the end. One last step. And then when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously under-estimating me.

As a symbol of her sincerity and love, she holds both sides of his face with her claw-like fingers while smothering him with kisses on his forehead and right cheek - she ends with a seductive, incestuous warm kiss on his lips.

In the film's climactic, brilliant sequence [noted for its similarity to Alfred Hitchcock's finale in Albert Hall in two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 and 1956), or in the scene of the detection of sinister goings-on within one Dutch windmill in Foreign Correspondent (1940)], Shaw (in a priest's outfit) walks with a case into Madison Square Garden - the locale of the political rally, as workmen set up the convention platform and janitorial staff wipe off the seats. Slowly and in preparation for his bloody assignment, he ascends stairs, passes a hallway with cases of empty Pepsi bottles, and climbs the upper balcony to a catwalk that leads to a tiny projection booth in one far corner of the arena. By 8:44 pm, Marco and the Colonel haven't heard from Shaw and Marco knows he "blew it. My magic is better than your magic. I should have known better." Determined to stop Shaw's murderous mission, they take a taxi to the Garden (shot within the taxi from their perspective) and enter and weave through the crowds amidst all the noisy, political rituals and hoopla of placard-waving, band-playing, and costumed convention delegates.

Presidential nominees Benjamin K. Arthur and "Big John" Iselin (with his wife) mount the stage. In the chaos, Marco tells the Colonel that he knows Shaw is there: "I tell ya, there's a bomb here, a time bomb that's set waiting to go off." Inexorably, events spiral along with masterful parallel editing and cross-cutting with an increased tempo - the playing of the National Anthem (that stalls the race), the unpacking, assembling, and setting of the telescopic sight on Raymond's rifle, the nervous ticks and sweat on the face of the whiskey-soaked demagogue beside his calculating wife, and Marco's glancing from side to side around the top of the arena.

When the lights go down for Presidential candidate Arthur's rousing speech, Marco notices one light that hasn't dimmed - a single shaft of light streaming out of a tiny window in the projectionist's room high up in the balcony of the dark hall. He breaks away from the ground floor and races toward the small room - in distant, angled/tilted long shots, Marco's sprint to the ceiling-high booth is captured by the camera as he passes areas of the arena that were earlier taken by Raymond. Images are quickly cross-cut from the speaker to the gun and to Marco's race against time. Shaw loads bullets into the chamber of his high-powered rifle and aims the cross-hairs at Arthur's head. Marco leaps up steep stairs, as Arthur's voice echoes throughout the stadium - inching closer and closer to the code words - a verbal time bomb that will trigger Shaw's rampage. As Arthur begins the phrase, Mrs. Shaw grasps her husband's arm, and Shaw raises his rifle to his shoulder. Tension is excruciating as the speaker coughs mid-sentence, allowing a delay of a few more seconds for Marco to reach closer to the booth.

When Arthur utters his last word 'liberty,' Shaw - whether because of Marco's 'deprogramming' effort or because of his own realization of his parents' evil - the spell is broken at the last moment. He swerves his rifle's aim from the presidential candidate, centers the cross-hair on his step-father's forehead and shoots - killing him. He reloads and fatally shoots his own mother who collapses like a rag-doll to the floor, and then pauses to don his own Congressional Medal of Honor around his neck - a true hero who has finally lived up to his award. Marco bursts into the room, stunned. Shaw turns and holds him helplessly at bay:

You couldn't have stopped them, the Army couldn't have stopped them. So I had to. That's why I didn't call. Oh God, Ben.

He then turns the rifle on himself and blows his brains out - off camera. The echo of the gunshot blast dissolves into crackling lightning/thunder claps during a rainstorm.

In the next scene - an epilogue, Marco stands at a rain-spattered window and ponders with Rosie the meaning of Raymond's heroism - he reads from a History of the US Army book filled with citations for other heroic Congressional Medal of Honor winners, including his own posthumous citation of bravery for Shaw's sacrifice in stopping the Iselins. He mourns and muses about an appropriate citation and epitaph for Shaw:

Poor Raymond. Poor friendless, friendless Raymond. He was wearing his medal when he died. You should read some of the citations sometime. Just read them. Taken, eight prisoners, killing four enemy in the process while one leg and one arm was shattered and he could only crawl because the other leg had been blown off - Edwards. Wounded five times, dragged himself across the direct fire of three enemy machine guns to pull two of his wounded men to safety amid sixty-nine dead and two hundred and three casualties - Holderman. Made to commit acts too unspeakable to be cited here by an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul. He freed himself at last and in the end heroically and unhesitatingly gave his life to save his country. Raymond Shaw. Hell! Hell! (Thunder claps).

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