(Dir. John Frankenheimer) (1962)
This is a nifty thriller, based on the intriguing brain-washing novel of 1959 by Richard Condon. While not entirely satisfactory, it features a wild, paranoid but plausible plot, great narrative drive and top drawer performances.
Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is given a Congressional Medal of Honour and general acclaim after his return from the Korean War, which is passing strange, since his entire unit hates him and there are several gaps in the story. Meanwhile, his vicious Mum and his churl of a stepfather, Senator John Iselin, a Joe McCarthy facsimile, have designs on the Presidency.
Shaw’s ‘pal’ and superior, Captain Marco (Frank Sinatra) keeps saying how great Raymond is, yet wonders why he does this, given that “It’s not as though Raymond is hard to like….he’s impossible to like!”
So the search to solve the mystery of Raymond’s popularity is on and the plot thickens, is reduced (or “reduced down” as morons on cooking shows have it), and goes from dark to darker.
As you begin to look past Shaw’s loathsome personality, you realise how hideously trapped and manipulated he is, and how sad his fate.
Sinatra uncorks his latter day hard-bitten persona as Captain Marco, in a vibrant and compelling performance. Harvey, a most perplexing actor, is spookily perfect for a spooky role. There are good turns by John McGiver, James Gregory, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva and Khigh Dhiegh in key supporting roles. But a giant shadow over the film is cast by Angela Lansbury, in a startling performance as a modern Medea, a forceful, lethal and consumed dominatrix.
All in all, well worth a look. Avoid the pallid 2004 ‘remake’.