Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In John Frankenheimer's classic, paranoid political conspiracy thriller:

  • the fitful and haunting nightmares experienced by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) after returning from wartime ("Night after night, the Major was plagued by the same re-occurring nightmare") - terrible, unconscious memories of his experiences in Manchuria when he was subjected to successful brainwashing; he often woke up in a cold sweat
  • the famous brainwashing/dream sequence in which Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and then Captain Marco and their platoon were present onstage at a ladies' garden club auxiliary meeting in a small hotel; they had been conditioned, programmed, and manipulated by a Pavlovian Chinese brainwasher to imagine that they were attending a ladies' auxiliary meeting/tea party; the images switched between the imagined, delusionary, conditioned point of view within the brainwashed soldiers' heads and actual reality
Strangulation of Ed Mavole by Raymond Shaw
Raymond Shaw's Execution of Bobby Lembeck
  • the camera began a slow, 360 degree, all-encompassing circular tracking shot around the meeting to reveal that they were part of a brain-washing demonstration within Manchuria - it began with an elderly white woman, Mrs. Henry Whittaker, speaking tediously from the stage on the topic of "Fun With Hydrangeas" to an audience of about two dozen elderly ladies in floral hats who were taking in the lecture on horticulture; when the camera returned to the stage 360 degrees later after the cyclical camera movement, a tall, bald Communist Chinese/Korean doctor-spylord Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) was actually in charge and had taken the woman's place and voice - he introduced the captured, passive and impotent men, all drugged and hypnotized, who were seated in front of giant poster/photographs of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, and watched from an amphitheatre of ominous-looking foreign Asians
  • the sequence of puppet-master Yen Lo calmly demonstrating Raymond's emotionless killing capacity through the technique of programming - by instructing Shaw to " death" with a white scarf Ed Mavole (Richard La Pore); the men sat placidly and bored with no emotion, while Mavole was dutifully killed
  • the odd completely positive phrase used by all of the brainwashed Korean war veterans for describing their commander, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner: ("Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life")
  • the scene of a televised press conference during which Raymond's bitchy mother Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) watched her 'Josephy McCarthy-ite' husband Senator John Iselin's (James Gregory) diminutive image on a TV monitor, a Vice-Presidential candidate, as he provoked his rival Secretary of Defense (Barry Kelley) for making cuts in defense spending: ("I have here a list of the names of 207 persons who are known by the Secretary of Defense as being members of the Communist Party...I demand an answer, Mr. Secretary. There will be no covering up, sir, no covering up. You are not going to get your hands on this list. And I deeply regret having to say...")
  • the similar nightmarish dreams of another young Korean War vet - former black Corporal Al Melvin (James Edwards) - who was also startled awake after another horrendous dream involving the garden party; in a second demonstration, the brainwashed Raymond Shaw was also calmly directed to shoot - "through the forehead" - the platoon's favorite, youngest member and "mascot" Bobby Lembeck (Tom Lowell); so without hesitation or even a second thought, Raymond pointed the gun at the camera - the smiling, trusting face of the young soldier - and blew his brains out, and blood splattered on the huge portrait of Stalin behind him
  • the intriguing scene in the space between railcars when Marco met and spoke to the mysterious, beguiling and attractive Eugenie Rose Chaney (Janet Leigh) - during their weird, oblique conversation, they talked about four US states, Columbus Ohio's football team, railroad lines, and her two names (Eugenie and nickname Rosie) - were they speaking in cryptic code?
  • the transition from Senator Iselin's use of a bottle of Heinz 57 Varieties ketchup bottle at dinner on his steak to his public testimony in the Senate in the next scene that there were definitely 57 card-carrying Communists in the Defense Department
  • Marco's reaction when he saw Chunjin (Henry Silva) at Shaw's apartment door - Chunjin was an "Oriental gentleman" who served with Shaw in the Army and was now Shaw's houseboy - Shaw suddenly recalled recessed memories that Chunjin was the guide who had led the platoon into an ambush, and they engaged in a lengthy karate fight
  • in the Jillys NYC bar sequence, Shaw heard the triggering words: "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?" - and after asking for a deck of cards, he turned over the Queen of Diamonds at the same time that he coincidentally overheard another conversation: "Why don't you go and take yourself a cab and go up to Central Park and go jump in the lake?" - and Shaw, now an automated, brain-washed zombie, proceeded to carry out the order in the middle of winter
  • at the costume party/ball at the Iselin's summer house on Long Island, the opening image of a large American flag suddenly having caviar scooped from its star pattern by Senator Iselin (dressed as Abe Lincoln)
  • the brilliantly-photographed, late-night assassination sequence of Raymond's killing of his own father-in-law (Iselin's political rival for VP) - left-leaning Senator Thomas Jordan (John McGiver) (standing in front of the refrigerator, he bled milk from a punctured milk carton instead of blood) and of his own new wife Jocie Jordan (Leslie Parrish)
  • the scene in which Marco attempted to de-program Shaw by fanning an entire deck of 52 Queens of Diamonds in front of his face: ("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...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!'")
  • the sequence of Shaw's corrupt, monstrous and perverse maternal figure, Mrs. Iselin, with an insatiable lust for power, describing the task and arrangements for him while seated next to Jocie's giant Queen of Diamonds costume - his mission was to assassinate the Presidential nominee Benjamin K. Arthur (Robert Riordan) 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; as a symbol of her sincerity and love, she held both sides of his face with her claw-like fingers while smothering him with kisses on his forehead and right cheek - she ended with a seductive, incestuous warm kiss on his lips
Mrs. Iselin's Corrupt and Lustful Power Over Raymond
  • the final climactic sequence during the political rally-convention in Madison Square Garden with Shaw disguised as a priest, carrying a sniper rifle, and positioned in an upper, unused spotlight booth at the convention center - and Marco's desperate sprint to the top of the arena to prevent an assassination in the making - arriving too late to prevent Shaw from firing on his own step-father and mother (whether it was because of Marco's 'deprogramming' effort or because of his own realization of his parents' evil was left unclear); he then donned his own Congressional Medal of Honor around his neck, and spoke to a stunned Marco who had just arrived ("You couldn't have stopped them, the Army couldn't have stopped them. So I had to"); he turned his rifle on himself and suicidally blew his brains out - Marco witnessed the blast (offscreen)
  • the dissolve from the gunshot blast to crackling lightning/thunder claps at film's end - an epilogue, when Marco looked out a rain-spattered window, and then read 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; Marco pondered on the meaning of Shaw's life/death: ("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!")

Major Marco's Nightmares

Brainwashing Sequence

Televised Press Conference - Mrs. Iselin Watching Husband on Monitor

Blood Splatter on Stalin Poster

Shaw's Train Conversation with Rosie

Heinz 57 Ketchup Varieties Transition

Marco's Karate-Fight Confrontation with Chunjin (Henry Silva)

("Go jump in the lake")

Assassination of Senator Jordan

Marco's Attempt to De-Program Shaw

Climactic Scene at Political Rally

Marco's Epilogue


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z