As Greil Marcus reconstructs the drama, "The Manchurian Candidate" is a movie in which the director and actors were suddenly capable of anything, beyond any expectations. This book shows how the film has burrowed into American culture.
The BFI editors should be embarassed for having released it.
This book isn't so much a commentary as it is a rant. Rob White, the series editor, seems to have let this slip into print with no concern for it's complete lack of content and deleriously circuitous writing "style". It's a shame because, as usual, the book is generously illustrated with stunning B&W stills from the film.
I have over two dozen commentaries from the BFI Modern Classics Series, each filed along side the DVD or VHS of the film itself. This book has no place in anyone's library. The definitive analysis of this classic has yet to be written, and but Marcus and BFI have misfired with this one.
I'm particularly perplexed by his need to devote an entire chapter to denigrating the cast and director of the movie -- Marcus marvels that no one in this movie came close to producing art at this level. Yet, what is remarkable about this? A substantial number of great movies are a result of special convergences that one might not expect. Furthermore, maybe Frankenheimer, Sinatra and Lansbury never hit this height again (though Marcus is extremely disingenous to Lansbury -- to cite Murder She Wrote and not note her distinguished stage career [Sweeney Todd, for example]) -- so what?
Marcus utterly fails to evaluate this work in the context of film in general. And his take on its societal effect is inaccurate (this movie is known in some circles, but it's not very pervasive). His token effort to add an academic lense to view it through is ineffective.
In the end, if you've seen and loved the movie, you will come away from this wondering what the heck Marcus was talking about. If you've haven't seen the movie, heaven knows why you'd want to after reading this.