Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Manchurian Candidate: Richard Condon

The Manchurian Candidate focuses on two characters. Raymond Shaw returns from the Korean War a hero, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His former commanding officer, Ben Marco, also returns from the conflict, and visits with Raymond in his apartment for two weeks. During that visit, he begins to experience nightmares and vague memories that he cannot explain.

Raymond Shaw has never been likable. He is haughty, self-centered, and doesn't have friends. Even now as a war hero, he is not likable but he is well-known and connected. He is the stepson of a influential and unprincipled senator, Johnny Iselin. Raymond hates his stepfather and has a very unhappy, uncomfortable relationship with his mother, who is only interested in using him to elevate her husband to higher office. The portraits that Condon paints of the senator and Raymond's mother are very convincing and very scary.

Ben Marco is an intelligence officer, and he knows that there is something wrong with his memory of the events that led to Raymond's medal. Even Raymond has that feeling, that his memories are not real. But neither is aware that they have been brainwashed or that Raymond is a sleeper agent, who can be triggered to carry out any crime that his handlers desire. (This is revealed early in the novel.)

The Manchurian Candidate is a political thriller about a very serious subject, but its black humor provides relief from the tension. The narrative style is not smooth, but the story is entertaining.  In many cases, Condon picks up on a subject, like the Medal of Honor and what it means, and goes off on an essay on that subject. I did not mind those lengthy asides at all. The story is very much of its time, but it also reminds of the political situations we live with now.

This is another book, like The Big Sleep, where my reaction was greatly affected by having seen the 1962 movie adaptation first, and having viewed it many times. The book might have been more confusing to me if I had not experienced the movie first; the story is very complex. As it was, because the 1962 movie and the book are so closely aligned, it was like visiting an old friend but getting more of the story than I had heard before. The book does give the reader more background on both the events and the setting, and the characters are more fleshed out.

The adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate directed by John Frankenheimer is a Cold War thriller filmed in black and white. As mentioned before, it adheres to the events of the novel very closely. This and Seven Days in May, also directed by Frankenheimer, are two of my favorite movies. Frank Sinatra does a beautiful job playing Marco, and Laurence Harvey plays the sleeper agent Raymond Shaw. Angela Lansbury plays Raymond's mother, and James Gregory is the Senator. I especially enjoyed Janet Leigh as Marco's girl friend, Rosie. The way they meet and their relationship is almost identical to the way it is handled in the novel, although her role is reduced in the movie.

The edition of the book I read is a movie tie-in edition for the 2004 adaptation, starring Denzel Washington as Marco and Liev Schreiber as Raymond. I have seen that movie and I liked it OK but it does not compare favorably to the 1962 adaptation. It is updated to use the Gulf War as the conflict as opposed to the Korean War.


This is my submission for the book of 1959 for the Crimes of the Century meme for this month, hosted by Rich at Past Offences. See also Rich's review from 2016.

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Publisher:  Pocket Star Books, 2004. Orig. pub. 1959.
Length:     358 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     US
Genre:      Political Thriller
Source:     I purchased this book.


12 comments:

  1. This is definitely a classic example of the political thriller, Tracy. And it certainly raises disturbing questions. I think it's because it's not as far from possibility as we'd like to think it is...

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    1. I use to read more conspiracy books when I was (a lot) younger, Margot, but this one is much better than those. Less melodramatic. The portrayal of men and women was of it time, but still enjoyed it.

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  2. I agree the remake pales compared with the Frankenheimer version, Tracy. I read the book after seeing the movie, but it's the movie I remember best.

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    1. It is hard for me to separate the movie and the book, Mathew. I will never know how I would have liked the book without having seen the movie. I haven't read anything else by Condon, but I want to try other books.

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  3. Your review has me intrigued, Tracy. I'll see whether I can get a copy of this.

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    1. The Manchurian Candidate is well worth reading, neer. The writing style is different and I like some variety, and the theme was handled well.

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  4. I've read all the fiction by Richard Condon that I could find, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of his books. He was a unique, indeed, quirky, writer, and deserves more than the obscurity into which he's faded in the years since his death.

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    1. Thanks for that information, Howard. I will definitely be trying more books by this author. I agree, I don't understand why he is not read more now.

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  5. Tracy, I know it's not the right way to go about it but I'd like to watch both the film adaptations before reading Richard Condon's book. I have heard so much about it, though.

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    1. In this case, I think that would be an interesting and worthwhile approach, Prashant. I think you would like both movies and the books, and I hope you will let us know what you thought.

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  6. Great choice for 1959, Tracy. I really like this book and the film - I saw a new print of it in the cinema in the 1980s and was knocked out by it. Though actually I am unsure whether I saw the film first or read the book, which is weird!

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    1. Moira, I am surprised that I have not read this book before now. I am glad I finally got to it. I had not realized that the movie and the book were so much alike. Usually so much has to be changed to adapt a book to film.

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