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Everyone knows the controversial 1962 film of The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, even though it was taken out of circulation for 25 years after JFK's assassination. Equally controversial on publication, and just as timely today, is Richard Condon's original novel. First published in 1959, The Manchurian Candidate is Condon's riveting take on a little-known corner of the cold war, the almost sci-fi concept of American soldiers captured, brainwashed, and programmed by their Chinese...
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Everyone knows the controversial 1962 film of The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, even though it was taken out of circulation for 25 years after JFK's assassination. Equally controversial on publication, and just as timely today, is Richard Condon's original novel. First published in 1959, The Manchurian Candidate is Condon's riveting take on a little-known corner of the cold war, the almost sci-fi concept of American soldiers captured, brainwashed, and programmed by their Chinese captors to return to the states as unsuspected political assassins. Condon's expert manipulation of the book's multiple themes from anticommunist hysteria to megalomaniacal motherhood makes this one of the most dazzling, and enduring, products of an unforgettable time. This classic of cold war paranoia includes a new introduction by Pulitzer Prize winning author Louis Menand.
His lumpy sergeant's uniform was heaped on a chair. He stretched out on the rented bed, wearing a new one-hundred-and-twenty-dollar dark blue dressing gown, and waited for the telephone operator to complete the chain of calls to locate Ed Mavole's father, somewhere in St. Louis.
He knew he was doing the wrong thing. Two years of Korean duty were three days behind him and, at the very least, he should be spending his money on a taxicab to go up and down those hills in the sunshine, but he decided his mind must be bent or that he was drunk with compassion, or something else improbable like that. Of all of the fathers of all of the fallen whom he had to call, owing to his endemic mopery, this one had to work nights, because, by now, it must be dark in St. Louis.
He listened to the operator get through to the switchboard at the Post-Dispatch. He heard the switchboard tell her that Mavole's father worked in the composing room. A man talked to a woman; there was silence. Raymond stared at his own large toe.
"Hello?" A very high voice.
"Mr. Arthur Mavole, please. Long distance calling." The steady rumble of working presses filled the background.
"This is him."
"Mr. Arthur Mavole?"
"Go ahead, please."
"Uh - hello? Mr. Mavole? This is Sergeant Shaw. I'm calling from San Francisco. I - uh - I was in Eddie's outfit, Mr. Mavole."
"My Ed's outfit?"
"The Ray Shaw? Who won the Medal of -"
"Yes, sir." Raymond cut him off in a louder voice. He felt like dropping the phone, the call, and the whole soggy, masochistic, suicidal thing in the wastebasket. Better yet, he should whack himself over the head with the goddam phone. "You see, uh, Mr. Mavole, I have to, uh, go to Washington, and I -"
"We know. We read all about it and let me say with all my heart I got left that I am as proud of you, even though I never met you, as if it were Eddie, my own kid. My son."
"Mr. Mavole," Raymond said rapidly, "I thought that if it was O.K. with you maybe I could stop over in St. Louis on my way to Washington, you know? I thought, I mean it occurred to me that you and Mrs. Mavole might get some kind of peace out of it, some kind of relief, if we talked a little bit. About Eddie. You know? I mean I thought that was the least I could do."
There was a silence. Then Mr. Mavole began to make a lot of slobbering sounds so Raymond said roughly that he would wire when he knew what flight he would be on and he hung up the phone and felt like an idiot. Like an angry man with a cane who pokes a hole through the floor of heaven and is scalded by the joy that pours down upon him, Raymond had a capacity for using satisfactions against himself.
When he got off the plane at St. Louis airport he felt like running. He decided Mavole's father must be that midget with the eyeglasses like milk-bottle bottoms who was enjoying sweating so much. The man would be all over him like a charging elk in a minute. "Hold it! Hold it!" the pimply press photographer said loudly.
"Put it down," Raymond snarled in a voice which was even more unpleasant than his normal voice. All at once the photographer was less sure of himself. "Whassa matter?" he asked in bewilderment - because he lived at a time when only sex criminals and dope peddlers tried to refuse to have their pictures taken by the press.
"I flew all the way in here to see Ed Mavole's father," Raymond said, despising himself for throwing up such corn. "You want a picture, go find him, because you ain't gonna take one of me without he's in it."
Listen to that genuine, bluff sergeant version of police verso, Raymond cried out to himself. I am playing the authentic war buddy so deeply that I will have to mail in a royalty check for the stock rights. Look at that clown of a photographer trying to cope with phenomena. Any minute now he will realize that he is standing right beside Mavole's father.
"Oh, Sergeant!" the girl said, so then he knew who she was. She wasn't red-eyed and runny-nosed with grief for the dead hero, so she had to be the cub reporter who had been assigned to write the big local angle on the White House and the Hero, and he had probably written the lead for her with that sappy grandstand play.
"I'm Ed's father," the sweat manufacturer said. It was December, fuh gossake, what's with all the dew? "I'm Arthur Mavole. I'm sorry about this. I just happened to mention at the paper that you had called all the way from San Francisco and that you had offered to stop over and see Eddie's mother on the way to the White House, and the word somehow got upstairs to the city desk and well - that's the newspaper business, I guess."
Raymond took three steps forward, grasped Mr. Mavole's hand, gripped his right forearm with his own left hand, transmitted the steely glance and the iron stare and the frozen fix. He felt like Captain Idiot in one of those space comic books, and the photographer got the picture and lost all interest in them.
"May I ask how old you are, Sergeant Shaw?" the young chick said, notebook ready, pencil poised as though she and Mavole were about to give him a fitting, and he figured reflexively that this could be the first assignment she had ever gotten after years of journalism school and months of social notes from all over. He remembered his first assignment and how he had feared the waffle-faced movie actor who had opened the door of the hotel suite wearing only pajama bottoms, with corny tattoos like So Long, Mabel on each shoulder. Inside the suite Raymond had managed to convey that he would just as soon have hit the man as talk to him and he had said, "Gimme the handout and we can save some time." The traveling press agent with the actor, a plump, bloodshot type whose glasses kept sliding down his nose, had said, "What handout?" He had snarled that maybe they would prefer it if he started out by asking what was the great man's hobby and what astrology sign he had been born under. It was hard to believe but that man's face had been as pocked and welted as a waffle, yet he was one of the biggest names in the business, which gives an idea what those swine will do to kid the jerky public. The actor had said, "Are you scared, kid?" Then, after that, everything seemed to go O.K. They got along like a bucket of chums. The point was, everybody had to start someplace.
Although he felt like a slob himself for doing it, he asked Mr. Mavole and the girl if they would have time to have a cup of coffee at the airport restaurant because he was a newspaperman himself and he knew that the little lady had a story to get. The little lady? That was overdoing it. He'd have to find a mirror and see if he had a wing collar on.
"You were?" the girl said. "Oh, Sergeant!" Mr. Mavole said a cup of coffee would be fine with him, so they went inside.
They sat down at a table in the coffee shop. The windows were steamy. Business was very quiet and unfortunately the waitress seemed to have nothing but time. They all ordered coffee and Raymond thought he'd like to have a piece of pie but he could not bring himself to decide what kind of pie. Did everybody have to look at him as though he were sick because he couldn't set his taste buds in advance to be able to figure which flavor he would favor before he tasted it? Did the waitress just have to start out to recite "We have peach pie, and pumpk -" and they'd just yell out Peach, peach, peach? What was the sense of eating in a place where they gabbled the menu at you, anyway? If a man were intelligent and he sorted through the memories of past tastes he not only could get exactly what he wanted sensually and with a flavor sensation, but he would probably be choosing something so chemically exact that it would benefit his entire body. But how could anyone achieve such a considerate deliberate result as that unless one were permitted to pore over a written menu?
"The prune pie is very good, sir," the waitress said. He told her he'd take the prune pie and he hated her in a hot, resentful flash because he did not want prune pie. He hated prune pie and he had been maneuvered into ordering prune pie by a rube waitress who would probably slobber all over his shoes for a quarter tip.
"I wanted to tell you how we felt about Ed, Mr. Mavole," Raymond said. "I want to tell you that of all the guys I ever met, there was never a happier, sweeter, or more solid guy than your son Ed."
The little man's eyes filled. He suddenly choked on a sob so loud that people at the counter, which was quite a distance away, turned around. Raymond spoke to the girl quickly to cover up. "I'm twenty-four years old. My astrological sign is Pisces. A very fine lady reporter on a Detroit paper once told me always to ask for their astrology sign because people love to read about astrology if they don't have to ask for it directly."
"I'm Taurus," the girl said.
"We'd be very good," Raymond said. She let him see just a little bit behind her expression. "I know," she said.
Mr. Mavole spoke in a soft voice. "Sergeant - you see - well, when Eddie got killed his mother had a heart attack and I wonder if you could spare maybe a half an hour out and back. We don't live all the way into the city, and -"
O Jesus! Raymond saw himself donning the bedside manner. A bloody cardiac. The slightest touchy thing he said to her could knock the old cat over sideways with an off-key moan. But what could he do? He had elected himself Head Chump when he had stepped down from Valhalla and telephoned this sweaty little advantage-taker.
"Mr. Mavole," he said, slowly and softly, "I don't have to be in Washington until the day after tomorrow, but I figured I would allow a day and a half in case of bad weather, you know? On account of the White House? I can even get to Washington by train from here overnight, the Spirit of St. Louis, the same name as that plane with that fella, so please don't think I would even think of leaving town without talking to Mrs. Mavole - Eddie's mother." He looked up and he saw how the girl was looking at him. She was a very pretty girl; a sweet-looking, nice, blond girl. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Mardell," she said.
"Do you think I'll be able to get a hotel here tonight?"
"I'm absolutely sure of it."
"I'll take care of that, Sergeant," Mr. Mavole said hurriedly. "In fact, the paper will take care of everything. You would certainly be welcome to stay at our place, but we just had the painters. Smells so sharp your eyes water."
Raymond called for the check. They drove to the Mavoles'. Mardell said she'd wait in the car and just to forget about her. Raymond told her to get on in to the paper and file her story, then drive back out to pick him up. She stared at him as if he had invented balkline billiards. He patted her cheek, then went into the house. She put her hand on her stomach and took three or four very deep breaths. Then she started the car and went into town.
The session with Mrs. Mavole was awful and Raymond vowed that he would never take an intelligence test because they might lock him up as a result of what would be shown. Any cretin could have looked ahead and seen what a mess this was going to be. They all cried. People can certainly carry on, he thought, holding her fat hand because she had asked him to, and feeling sure she was going to drop dead any minute. These were the people who let a war start, then they act surprised when their own son is killed. Mavole was a good enough kid. He certainly was a funny kid and with a sensational disposition but, what the hell, twenty thousand were dead out there so far on the American panel, plus the U.N. guys, and maybe sixty, eighty thousand more all shot up, and this fat broad seemed to think that Mavole was the only one who got it.
Could my mother take it this big if I got it? Would anyone living or anyone running a legitimate séance which picked up guaranteed answers from Out Yonder ever be able to find out whether she could feel anything at all about anything or anybody? Let her liddul Raymond pull up dead and he knew the answer from his liddul mommy. If the folks would pay one or more votes for a sandwich she would be happy to send for her liddul boy's body and barbecue him.
"I can tell you that it was a very clear action for a night action, Mrs. Mavole," Raymond said. Mr. Mavole sat on the other side of the bed and stared at the floor, his eyes feverish captives in black circles, his lower lip caught between his teeth, his hands clasped in prayer as he hoped he would not begin to cry again and start her crying. "You see, Captain Marco had sent up some low flares because we had to know where the enemy was. They knew where we were. Eddie, well -" He paused, only infinitesimally, to try not to weep at the thought of how bitter, bitter, bitter it was to have to lie at a time like this, but she had sold the boy to the recruiters for this moment, so he would have to throw the truth away and pay her off. They never told The Folks Back Home about the filthy deaths - the grotesque, debasing deaths which were almost all the deaths in war. Dirty deaths were the commonplace clowns smoking idle cigarettes backstage at a circus filled with clowns. Ah, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Only a clutch of martial airs played on an electric guitar and sung through the gaudy jukebox called Our Nation's History. He didn't know exactly how Mavole caught it, but he could figure it close. He'd probably gotten about sixteen inches of bayonet in the rectum as he turned to get away and his screaming had scared the other man so much that he had fought to get his weapon out and run away, twisting Mavole on it until the point came out under Mavole's ribs where the diaphragm was and the man had had to put his foot on the back of Mavole's neck, breaking his nose and cheekbone, to get the sticker out, while he whimpered in Chinese and wanted to lie down somewhere, where it was quiet. All the other people knew about how undignified it was to lose a head or some legs or a body in a mass attack, except his people: the innocents hiding in the jam jar. Women like this one might have had that li'l cardiac murmur stilled if her city had been bombed and she had seen her Eddie with no lower face and she had to protect and cherish the rest, the ones who were left. "- well, there was this very young lad in our outfit, Mrs. Mavole. He was maybe seventeen years old, but I doubt it. I think sixteen.
Excerpted from The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon Copyright © 2004 by Pocket Star. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 31, 2008
To sum it up: the original film was better than the novel. Condon gets the pacing all wrong by starting in the middle, then pausing for lengthy flashbacks before getting back on track. Condon also shows disdain for his own characters, like a chatty housewife gossiping about the neighbors, which is cute for a while but gets old eventually. The cold war politics are actually less dated than one would think, and the fact that the story rings so true has kept this book relevant after almost 50 years.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 10, 2007
¿The Manchurian Candidate' a masterpiece of political and psychological horror, inspired by the ridiculous heights of the Cold War and the terror of McCarthyism. An extraordinary film about political agitations, assassinations, and Communist fiddling, probably one of the best politically based fiction movies ever made by Hollywood. It had been out of release immediately following President John F. Kennedy¿s death in 1963, but the film's producers and United Artists decided to call it back for its subject matter resonating with the tragedy and conspiracy surrounding the death of JFK. Fallowing its release in 24th October 1962, the film faced various acquisitions, some critics said the story line was somewhat un-AMERICAN, some thought of it being pro-communist, and in certain countries protesters stigmatized it as rightist propaganda. The film deals with a Communist plot to send a brainwashed American war hero to assassinate a presidential candidate. But the most shocking aspects of the story are who truly sponsored it and who Raymond (the protagonist) is ultimately destined to assassinate. The mind reeling aspect of the film is to watch how the protagonist is relentlessly manipulated by those who use him, while those who want to save him deal with insuperable obstacles. Raymond wouldn't allow himself to enjoy any pleasure in his life. He surely found himself guilty for the crimes he had committed. He was frequently spellbound by his mother and executed every transgression operation his mother wanted him to perpetrate. What was really interesting watching was the character of Raymond's despicable and domineering mother Mrs. Iselin, whose evil amply propels the storyline, the difficulty to believe in her cobwebby evil brilliance. The acme of Momisms: What She Says and What She Really Means. Actress Angela Lansbury portrays a character of a mother who is both scathing and self-deprecating. One of the prime focuses of the story is the obsession with motherhood and the impossible standards which that obsession promotes.Watching Angela Lansbury play her character of a rugged and powerful mother will certainly make any viewer¿s blood run cold. Tone in the way she talks favors the sarcasm and black humor rather than her daunting attitude. Some scenes are too funny to be takes seriously and that is why her character is addictive.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 4, 2004
I have now read the book, and watched both movies, so I can truly say that this is one of the best stories ever written. Some parts are a little slow, but the story is as chilling and realistic as it was in the 50's and 60's.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2004
Condon¿s 1959 novel is a shocking political thriller, as disturbing today as it was then. The very concept of the Far Right being manipulated as a tool of the Far Left may seem outdated in this post-Cold War world, but the reality is, the scenery never really changes, only the labels do. During the Korean War, a Chinese-Russian military intelligence operation captures a patrol of American soldiers and brainwashes the squad leader, Sergeant Raymond Shaw, to act as an assassin who forgets his orders and his bloody deeds once they are done. Neither Raymond nor his fellow soldiers have any idea what¿s happened to them, or to Raymond in particular -- none have any memory of the fact that Raymond murdered two of the men under his command, on the orders of the Chinese, during the period they were held captive. Raymond returns home a hero and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is briefly reunited with his mother, for whom he nurses a vigorous hatred, and her husband, Johnny Iselin, a U.S. Senator patterned loosely after Joe McCarthy. Iselin is buffoonish, conservative, and politically savvy -- a comical character but for the fact that he has serious political ambitions, and the means to carry them out with the help of Raymond¿s supremely controlling mother. With steely determination, she advances Iselin¿s career, destroys Raymond¿s romance with the daughter of a political enemy, then rebuilds it when it suits her purposes. The book is a delightful read, disarmingly entertaining as Condon takes you deeper into the plot that has Raymond as its focal point. On the surface, Condon¿s writing is light, funny and anecdotal, but he employs casual satire to expose the reader to truly disturbing themes. A must read for anyone interested in government, spy stories, and the possibility that things are not what they appear.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 10, 2004
This is a twisty political satire in the guise of a thriller. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie (the first one; the remake is a waste of time and money.) You're in for a treat with twists and turns you won't see coming up until the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 10, 2011
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Posted July 26, 2010
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Posted June 23, 2011
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