Brainwashing! Most people familiar with the subject think that Edward Hunter invented the term in the 1950s. Hunter was an American writer, a journalist, intelligence agent and at one time an authority on psychological warfare. Hunter is usually acknowledged as having invented the word “brain washing,” in a newspaper article in 1950. But, the original term “brain washing” (two words, not one, but later hyphenated, then one word) could be traced back in writings and conversations from decades earlier. Hunter’s article seemed to create a bigger interest and Hunter then wrote a book on it.
Brain-Washing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men’s Minds published in 1951, and it appeared in several formats and covers. Then and in years later, Hunter claimed that Russian and Chinese psychologists had developed insidious methods for manipulating the mind.
All that brain washing etymology aside, (along with the bitter editorial wars on the use of the hyphen) enter author, Mr. Richard Condon. Fiction historians rightly assume he became aware of all the “brain washing’” news stories. Condon started writing at the age of 42, publishing The Oldest Profession. In 1958 he invented The Manchurian Candidate to be released in 1959. To condense the plot into a few lines, we commonly see this summary…
“It is a political thriller about the son of a prominent U.S. political family is captured in the Korean War, is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy while the son rises into power.”
…which does the book quite a disservice in comparison to the wild, mysterious and at times frightening events in the story. It and a few other Condone books captured the attention of critics and readers alike. And still does. He also hit it big with the Prizzi mafia book series, scribing 29 books, a travel book and a cookbook. Some of these books became hit movies. The New York Times said of him, “Richard Condon, the fiendishly inventive novelist and political satirist…He was also a visionary, a darkly comic conjurer, a student of American mythology and a master of conspiracy theories.” And, “Condon style, which combined a fast pace, outrage, and frequent humor while focusing almost obsessively on monetary greed and political corruption.” Of significance, the term brainwashing was often replaced with the catch phrase “Manchurian Candidate” as defined – “A ‘Manchurian candidate’ is a person, especially a politician, being used as a puppet by an enemy power.” We have heard and still hear that name-dropped today, and a cultural influence not many authors can brag on, brought about by their writings.
Then came the movie. Stark. If black and white movies set a nostalgic mood and noir, this is certainly one of them. Shocking for its time, and just a year after the career of the movie James Bond began with Dr. No. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a “97” and summarized it as, “Near the end of the Korean War, a platoon of U.S. soldiers is captured by communists and brainwashed. Following the war, the platoon is returned home, and Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is lauded as a hero by the rest of his platoon. However, the platoon commander, Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), finds himself plagued by strange nightmares and, together with fellow soldier Allen Melvin (James Edwards), races to uncover a terrible plot.”
I read the book in the 1970s but never saw the movie at that time as it was described as…hidden away. Why? There was media confusion about the disappearance. During the making of the film, Sinatra, said he asked his friend Jack Kennedy about the movie before its release. (United Artists was concerned that the assassination scene “might give some nut an idea.”) Kennedy, a public fan of Bond and Fleming loved the premise of the movie, Frank said. But, a year after the release, Kennedy was indeed assassinated. (Everyone then wanted to know if Oswald watched the movie?) It was so controversial the film was either censored or prohibited from theatrical release in many countries. Rumors had it that Sinatra was battling UA to release it? Other rumors said he owned it and hid away from remorse. The New Yorker updated the battle in 2003…
“United Artists withdrew The Manchurian Candidate from theatres in 1964… in 1972, Sinatra bought the rights. Whether or not he was motivated by guilt over Kennedy’s death is unclear. He did, however, give his daughter Tina permission to produce a remake in 2002.”
But the film was still shown twice on special-event tv, and then released to outlets like cable TV in 1987. The “who-owns-and-fought-for-what” stories are as tricky as the enigmatic Frank Sinatra himself, like the sub-storylines in the Godfather, and “who-was-or-was-not-and-why” going to be Dirty Harry? Seems everyone has a sure answer, but verifications vary. We do know Frank was interested in hit-men and assassination stories because he chose to be in “Suddenly” and “The Naked Runner” (seen them? You should).
Den of Geek reports that the re-release has a simple story. “The New York Film Festival took an interest in the movie, and organized a special screening to celebrate its 25th birthday. That proved to be a big success…MGM/UA noted the renewed interest, and got the rights back to redistribute the film.”
The 2004 Remake? This leads us to updated Gulf War version with the great Denzel Washington as Marco, Meryl Streep (to me, doing her best Hillary Clinton) as crazy mommy and Liev Schreiber as Shaw. Great update and Denzel is fantastic. And in the 2004 film we see a few once conspiratorial things that have come true today.
Every time I see the first and second Manchurian Candidate on cable, I am compelled to recall the book, and to watch the movies. The first film for its mood, inventiveness, uniqueness and Frank is in it (and that fight scene with the Korean butler – must see in the link below! Frank broke his pinky in the fight scene, when breaking the table). The second film for the overall cleverness of the Gulf War update, the new, complex, plot enhancements and Denzel, Denzel. Denzel! The casts in both were fantastic. In both films, I would say “mission accomplished.”
Movie Trailer 1962 – Click here
Movie Trailer 2004 – Click here
Marco and Butler fight! An EARLY martial arts fight scene you MUST see! – Click here
Breakdown of Condon’s books and bio – Click here