Reading the reviews, I could not help but wonder: Why all the hate? I have read about 45 of these BFI books and have never encountered so many one-star ratings. But I will admit, although the negative reviews overstate the case, this is one of the weaker entries in this series (though hardly the worst, a distinction still held by The Matrix).
The Manchurian Candidate was more than an entertaining movie. It was one that touched on a number of issues of the day, which is no doubt why it is the subject of a BFI monograph to begin with. No need to analyze the mediocre. The aftermath of the Korean War, political assassinations, brainwashing and the limits to free will, all are explored in the movie through an entertaining film.
Author Greil Marcus, however, grossly overstates the case. It is to be commended that the publisher chooses authors particularly taken with the film about which they write. But with Marcus, they might have picked someone whose enthusiasm clouds his vision. Yes, the movie is good, and timely, and portentous, and all that. Marcus considers it more and, unfortunately, the result is a rather monotonous essay basically repeating over and over again just how wonderful The Manchurian Candidate really is, about how everyone – everyone – is not only wonderful in the movie but taken to new heights by it that they never reached before and never reached again. One expects Jesus, upon his return, to walk on water in order view it.
Marcus also takes the lazy way out by quoting far too extensively from sources, both from the ‘60s and the ‘00s, that seem to place the film into some historical context. A better author would be able to do this himself, through analysis, with a far more sparse use of other sources directly in the text. A passage regarding the reporting of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination is particularly confused and difficult to get through.
Well, take from it what you can. I cannot say I recommend this book. But if you are a real fan of The Manchurian Candidate and really, really want to read some analysis of it, I suppose this is what you get, and you at least will not be worse off for reading it.