The Manchurian Candidate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This represented a new transfer for the film, one that still had some problems but that also marked a definite improvement.
For the most part, sharpness seemed nicely crisp and detailed. A few “deep focus” shots appeared slightly soft, but those instances stemmed from the source material and couldn’t be helped. There’s also one notable scene in which Sinatra remained out of focus, but that also came from the original negative. Most of the film was distinct and accurate. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, though some mild edge enhancement cropped up periodically throughout the flick.
Print flaws seemed quite minor, especially given the film’s age. Grain manifested itself in a mild way, and those instances came from the source. The occasional speck popped up during the movie, but those elements remained modest and caused very few distractions.
Black levels came across as deep and dense. Dark tones offered some of the DVD’s highlights, as they seemed nicely rich. Shadow detail generally appeared solidly clear and opaque except for some early shots that used “day for night” photography. As is typical of that technique, these scenes appeared overly dark and thick. Ultimately, the visuals of Candidate seemed satisfying.
Another change from the original DVD came with a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This opened up the spectrum in a surprisingly engaging manner. The audio often remained fairly monaural, but it broadened well at times. The battle sequences offered the most active elements, as they showed localized gunfire and vehicle movement. These came from all around and included the surrounds well.
The pieces didn’t blend together terribly smoothly, as the bits stayed “speaker-specific” much of the time, but the audio earned some points for ambition, and the hard delineation didn’t cause distractions. The music showed passable stereo imaging, though it came across largely as broad mono and didn’t present great definition of the elements.
Audio quality was fine for a movie from 1962. At times dialogue sounded somewhat brittle and bright, but speech usually came across as accurate and acceptably natural, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Music sounded clear and adequately smooth; highs lacked bite but lows seemed nice for an older mix. Effects occasionally seemed a little distorted - mainly during combat scenes - but for the most part they were clean and distinct. I detected some mild tape hiss and background noise throughout much of the movie. The audio didn’t blow me away, but its quality and scope earned it a “B”.
Happy note: MGM included the original monaural soundtrack along with this new remix. I always think DVDs should present the original audio, so even though I like the remix, I’m very pleased to get the mono track too.
How did the audio and picture of this new disc compare with the original release of Candidate? Both improved on the prior set. The picture seemed tighter and also diminished the amount of source flaws. The quality of the 5.1 track’s audio was similar, but the greater breadth and involvement of the multi-channel mix scored it points.
This new edition of The Manchurian Candidate expands on the supplements found with the first offers a few supplemental features. I’ll denote those that appear on both discs with an asterisk.
First up is a running *audio commentary from director John Frankenheimer. When he speaks, he provides some very compelling information that adds insight into the production. Unfortunately, Frankenheimer lets much of the movie pass without any information. It’s an excellent piece when Frankenheimer offers his thoughts, though. He covers a nice variety of topics, from alterations made to the original novel to casting to his overall intentions as a director. He tosses in some great anecdotes along the way, including one gem about a screening in Greece. Ultimately, Frankenheimer’s commentary can be frustrating due to its many silent stretches, but it nonetheless provides more than enough excellent details to merit a listen.
Less valuable is the *Exclusive Interview found on the DVD. Recorded in 1988, this seven minute and 34 second piece gathers director/writer Frankenheimer, actor Sinatra, and producer/writer George Axelrod together to discuss the film. All three men were corralled into one room where they interacted with each other and reminisced about the movie.
It’s a great idea, but the result is less than thrilling. We hear some basic information about the movie and get a few decent anecdotes, but the absence of an actual interviewer harms the piece; an outside presence may have better focused the men’s thoughts. Still, the brevity of the program means that it doesn’t become excessively tiresome, so I thought it was worth a look.
Under the moniker Queen of Diamonds, we get an interview with actor Angela Lansbury. This goes for 14 minutes and 49 seconds as she discusses her casting, her approach to the role, working with Frankenheimer, specifics about shooting a few scenes, almost working with Sinatra and some impressions of him and the other actors, and a few general remarks. Lansbury gets into some interesting topics and provides a modicum of useful notes, but the program lacks much depth. It feels superficial and only moderately informative.
Another featurette called A Little Solitaire runs 13 minutes and 16 seconds. It presents filmmaker William Friedkin’s thoughts on Candidate. He goes into his thoughts about Frankenheimer’s style and work, Sinatra’s spontaneous nature and conflict with the director, stylistic and editing choices, Janet Leigh’s part and some other supporting roles, his reactions to Harvey’s and Lansbury’s performances, and the film’s impact and connections to real life. This program fits in with the Lansbury one neatly. It covers a few salient points but fails to deliver many notable bits. It suffers from too many movie clips and too little concrete data, so it presents an only moderately informative piece.
In addition to the film’s *theatrical trailer, we find more ads under different banners. “MGM Means Great Movies” and “Other Great Academy Award Winners” present compilation promos. The Photo Gallery gives us 57 shots from the set. Finally, the DVD’s booklet presents some basic notes about the project.
A couple of Easter eggs appear. Go up from the “Exclusive Interview” to see a 25-second outtake from Friedkin’s session. Click to the right from “Other Great MGM Releases” and we get a 66-second snippet in which Lansbury discusses one particular acting choice.
Although many movies seem dated within months of their release, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate has barely aged a day over the last four decades. It remains a taut and tense piece that manages to be eerie and thrilling throughout its entire running time. The DVD provides very good picture and audio along with an inconsistent but decent set of supplements.
I definitely recommend this new version of Candidate. Folks who don’t own the old release can’t go wrong with this one, as the movie’s a keeper and the DVD seems positive. Those who have the prior edition also should snag the new one. It improves upon the old one in every way, and with a very low list price of less than $15, it won’t hurt too many pocketbooks. Kudos to MGM for a good reissue of a great film at a terrific price.