The Manchurian Candidate (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh & Angela Lansbury

TMC_poster
A poster for the film

…it feels as if it were made yesterday. Not a moment of “The Manchurian Candidate” lacks edge and tension and a cynical spin. And what’s even more surprising is how the film now plays as a political comedy, as well as a thriller.

-Roger Ebert

I love this movie & find it disturbing. It’s a thriller but at times it even seems a satire.

Sinatra is so great here, you hardly notice how good Laurence Harvey is.

#TCMParty (selected tweets)

I keep telling you not to think! You’re very, very good at a great many things, but thinking, hon’, just simply isn’t one of them. -Mrs. Iselin explains to her husband

There is something timeless, yet also eerily timely about this classic film (in Trump’s America). Though it was released in 1962, it is set in 1952 in New York and DC; the use of black and white makes it look older. I think the novelist (Richard Condon) was influenced by Hamlet; note Sgt. Raymond Shaw’s (Laurence Harvey) deep hatred for his stepfather, Senator John Iselin (James Greogory), who married his domineering mother, Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury). We are NOT told anything re: Raymond’s birth father; I imagine that he was a wealthy/intelligent/influential man. In the youthful romance of Raymond and Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), there is an echo of the feud between noble families as in Romeo & Juliet

TMC_train_mtg
Maj. Bennett Marco and Rosie chat on the train in a mysterious manner.

Janet (Psycho) Leigh plays a shady, Robert Walker-like femme fatale whose cryptic language may or may not indicate she’s a member of the Communist Ring… The most celebrated (and widely discussed) meet-cute in film history occurs aboard a train, as Janet Leigh and Sinatra whisper sweet-somethings in the most roundabout, I’ve-never-heard-people-talk-like-this way imaginable. 

-Stanford Arts Review

Women are (in several scenes) depicted as capable, smart, and active agents in their romantic lives. Obviously, Mrs. Iselin is the power behind her loud-mouthed/dim-witted husband. A young Josie comes to Raymond’s rescue after he’s bitten by a snake. Rosie (Janet Leigh) approaches Maj. Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) during their train ride, shows him that she’s VERY interested, then tells him her address and phone number.

TMC_raymond_mother
Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and Raymond (Laurence Harvey)

It’s a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn’t always hate her. When I was a child, I only kind of disliked her. -Raymond explains to Bennett Marco 

This is the type of film that you MUST pay attention to, or you’ll miss something! It showcases Sinatra’s acting range; many critics/classic movie fans consider this performance to be the best of his career. The Manchurian Candidate proves us just how scary Lansbury can be, if the script calls for it; I wished there was more of her performance. The way that she controlled Raymond’s life has contributed to how his life is like at that start of the story: humorless, friendless, and loveless. He attempts to get away by taking a job w/ a newspaper editor he admires, BUT alas, his life is NOT his own. 

TMC_costumeball
Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) faces off against Senator Tom Jordan (James McGiver).

There are people who think of Johnny as a clown and a buffoon, but I do not. I despise John Iselin and everything that Iselinism 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. -Senator Jordan says to Mrs. Iselin

Little details add to the richness of the story. There is a scene where an African-American soldier is having a nightmare/flashback (VERY similar to that of Marco), BUT we see that the ladies in the tea party are African-American. That’s b/c it’s happening w/in the context of his life, NOT that of a white man. There are two supporting East Asian characters, including Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) and Korean translator-turned-cook, Chunjin (Henry Silva- of Puerto Rican heritage). In one exciting scene, Marco and Chunjin fight using karate. 

Advertisements

That Hamilton Woman (1941) starring Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier

that-hamilton-woman-poster.jpg
A promotional poster for the film

Indeed, it’s difficult to separate the “real Olivier” and the “real Leigh” from their parts here—and the parts that had made them who they now were: he the more conservative and guilt-ridden son of a parson, she the reckless flibbertigibbet who nevertheless had a shrewd eye for power and manipulation. 

-Molly Haskell, The Criterion Collection

That-Hamilton-Woman-1941-closeup
Closeup of Emma (Vivien Leigh) and Nelson (Laurence Olivier)

It was 1940, Britain was in peril. Hoping to enlist the Americans in the fight against Hitler, producer/director Alexander Korda hatched the idea for this film. Cables went back and forth between London and Hollywood (where the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Olivier were living temporarily, awaiting the finalization of their respective divorces). Korda had both actors under contract; he offered them bonuses, as well as the opportunity to recoup some of the money lost after their failed stage production of Romeo and Juliet. The production had to be done quickly- five weeks. Churchill would later say that it was his favorite movie.

So, your nephew sent me to you with his paintings and the bric-à-brac because he’s broke! -Emma exclaims to Sir William Hamilton 

A housemaid turned wannabe fiance to one British gentleman, Emma Hart (Leigh), is suddenly shipped off to Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray). He is a middle-aged widower, even-tempered, and a collector of great works of art. Sir William admires beauty. As he wishes, Emma learns languages, singing, dancing, etc. Her doting mother, Mrs. Cardogan-Lyon (Sara Allgood), is her loyal companion through it all. In time, Sir William marries Emma (making an honest woman out of her); they live in a palatial seaside home in Naples, since he is Ambassador to Italy. Though she could not be presented at court in England, the clever/vivacious Emma becomes a close confidante of the Queen of Naples. 

That Hamilton Woman_1st_mtg.png
Nelson (Olivier) and Emma (Leigh) meet for the first time

One day, a British battleship arrives in Naples, and Cmdr. Horatio Nelson (Olivier) meets with Sir William re: docking and affairs of state. Emma bursts in on them, worried about a party she is planning. Her husband doesn’t mind, BUT Nelson insists on speaking to the ambassador in private. Emma starts to wonder if her life of is frivolous.

That-Hamilton-Woma_court.jpg
Emma (Leigh) and Nelson (Olivier) at the opera

They told us of your victories but not of the price you paid! -Emma exclaims to Nelson (after seeing his wounds)

Five years later, Emma meets Nelson (now a lord, thanks to his MANY victories in the Napoleonic Wars) again. She is glad to see him alive, BUT also shocked by the fact that he has lost the sight in one eye and an arm. Emma wants to help, she tells Nelson, and uses her influence w/ the queen to get more troops for the war. They talk, plan, attend plays, and become close friends. Rumors start to spread…

[1] …when it comes to the cinema, her acting technique on screen is every bit as expert as Laurence Olivier’s. (In fact, Olivier himself admitted this when he saw her as Scarlett O’Hara.)

[2] Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier make a terrific pair and of course have great chemistry together, which really complements this true story. The actors give great performances, and I think the film really tries hard not judge the actions of Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson which caused a tremendous scandal in their own time. Anyone who likes historical drama and wants to escape into another world for a few hours is bound to enjoy.

[3] Although the film was made by Hollywood, it is British to its core and fiercely patriotic. It was intended as an anti-Nazi propaganda piece… The Nazi allegory is most clearly seen in the scene when Sir William explains to his wife that the British Empire is periodically attacked by military adventurers, in Nelson’s line “We are alone but unafraid” and his speech denouncing the idea of negotiating with dictators… I imagine that it was quite a stirring film for the Britons of the day. 

 

-Various excerpts from IMDB reviews

Macbeth (Shakespeare Theatre Company: APR 25-MAY 28)

When I work on a play, I think about where I’m doing it and figure out what the pulse of that city is. In this case, it’s D.C., it’s politics—and it’s also structural politics. They’d understand this idea I’d have. So I identify the place and then I figure out how to get the play into the laps of the audience, so it’s not an intellectual thing that they can just sit back and let wash over them—it feels visceral. It feels like it’s a play for them.

-Liesl Tommy, Director

Director Liesl Tommy grew up in segregated Cape Town, South Africa, before immigrating to Boston at age 15 w/ her family. She has located her Macbeth in some unnamed, majority-Muslim (note the hijabs) country in North Africa. This is a land troubled by civil war in the modern-day. The three “witches” are mysterious foreign operatives, lead by Hecate (who has a Russian accent a la Putin). 

If you’re familiar w/ the play, you’ll quickly notice that several of the originally male characters have become female: Duncan, Donalbain, Ross, Young Lennox, one of the (here only a teen) assassins, Macduff’s child, and the Doctor. This production is also influenced by House of Cards; you’ll note how Macbeth’s monologues/asides are done. (In 2013, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright explained that they modeled their Frank and Claire Underwood roles after the ultimate power couple, Macbeth and Lady M.)

I think this production will appeal more to those who are NOT so familiar w/ (or invested in) Shakespeare. As you may know, I’m NOT one of those folks (LOL)! In my opinion, there are some effective scenes, BUT as a whole, there is a LOT missing. Sometimes the energy gets low, such as the extended dance number and coronation scene. It could’ve been much shorter (as was noted in Washington City Paper). 

Above all, Macbeth offers a glimpse of the tragic themes that seemed to obsess Shakespeare—the corrupting currents of power and ambition, the inevitability of time, the toxic intimacy of husbands and wives, blood that will have blood. All of these themes can be said to equivocate, extending the play’s resonance beyond its specific context and Shakespeare’s life and times to shed insight on our own. 

-Drew Lichtenberg, Literary Manager

In the lead role, Jesse J. Perez is comfortable w/ The Bard’s language, BUT there is something missing in the way he expresses the words. 

Though he may be committed and driven, Jesse J. Perez embodies Macbeth with volume and gesture, but little else. If he is to stir and unsettle, Macbeth must convincingly reveal his inner battles — between right and wrong, between strength and weakness, between ambition and cowardice. It is found in the subtleties of the language, its music, and the expressive spaces in between. Perez misses these opportunities, choosing instead a broad and agitated brush. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

Nikkole Salter does a  fine job as Lady Macbeth; the audience seemed to like her performance. Her Lady M is an alpha female, for sure! The way she interacts w/ her husband make their marriage seem like one of convenience, NOT passion (as I’ve usually seen portrayed onstage and film). Salter has command of the language, which contributes to an exciting presence. 

As one watches the appealing earnestness and latent dark energies (seen to great effect when he turns into a ghost) of McKinley Belcher III’s Banquo, the friend so cruelly betrayed by Macbeth, it’s hard not to wonder what he might have done with the title role. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

It took me a few minutes, BUT I recognized Belcher from PBS’ Mercy Street. Now that may NOT be the most interesting show, BUT his character is a pretty interesting/conflicted man. As for Corey Allen, his Malcolm is VERY effective. This is a leading man in the making, no doubt! 

It’s an interesting take on Macbeth the story, but it has a crippling effect on Macbeth the character. Tommy has replaced the godhead (or, at least, the Meddlesome Fortunetellers) with Uncle Sam, but Shakespeare wasn’t interested in puppets. 

By amputating the supernatural elements, STC has grounded Macbeth on the human plane, which was its intention. Attempts to make the man “resonate” with 2017 theatergoers, however, rob him of his twisted, fatalistic nobility. This is the worst character Shakespeare still liked, not some banana republic placeholder.

Brightest Young Things

Indian-American actress Anu Yadav (who I saw last year in The Who and The What at Round House Theatre) is part of the company; she plays an assassin and maidservant to Lady Macbeth. Later on, I saw in the playbill that Lady Macduff was also played by a South Asian actress- Nilanjana Bose.

Myra Lucretia Taylor (who was interviewed recently on WETA) provides some (much needed) humor as the Porter. In another small role, the Doctor, she brings gravitas. Taylor is obviously comfortable w/ Shakespeare’s language!