The Manchurian Candidate and 60s American Cinema


1.  50s/60s American culture—what main characteristics arguably carry over from the 50s into the early 60s?  How do these explain the transformation of American culture (and society) through the 1960s?


--cold war paranoia:  the fear originally rooted in the Soviet Union’s take-over of Eastern Europe, amplified by its possession of the atomic (and subsequently hydrogen) bomb technology, becomes enacted in several forms:

     --the Korean War in the early 50s

     --the investigations by Congress into Communist influence in entertainment (HUAC) and by (and of) McCarthy’s investigative subcommittee into the Army

     --American support for the government of South Vietnam in the mid and late 1050s, which escalated into full-blown ground war by the mid 1960s


--offshoots:  fear of bomb and missile “gaps” (see Dr. Strangelove; Failsafe)

           :  fear of conspiracies from without and within to take over the United States (see 7 Days in May)


           :  pressure to conform (institutionalized by McCarthyism and generalized throughout American culture by the growth of the middle class in the 50s)



2.  Reaction(s) to the subtle and explicit pressures of the 50s?


--music (rock in the 50s; the Beatles, etc. in the 60s)

--Social change movements:  Civil Rights (54-64)

--symbolic strength of the Kennedy administration


3.  End of the “classic” Hollywood studio film; rise of

     --“art” film

     --“teen” pix

     --independent production


4.  Hollywood’s shift to horizontal integration

     --7 majors in the 40s and early 50s become replaced by 165 independent production companies distributing 2/3s of all feature films produced


     --Case in point:  United Artists (which produced Manchurian Candidate) becomes a business that primarily:

           --finances production     

           --distributes product for a distributor’s fee (plus a percentage of the gross at the box office)

           --Candidate is made in part because of Frank Sinatra’s participation as both star and co-producer


5.  Discussion questions:

     --how does the film reflect the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s in the US?  How does the film in particular address:

           --an atmosphere of fear?

           --pressures to conform?


     --how does the film stylistically show the shift from the classic Hollywood studio film to independent production?


     --how does the film address contemporary politics?


     --as a suspense film, how is Manchurian Candidate similar to and different from Notorious?


     --what is the film’s view of fear, violence, and their interrelationship?


     --what has happened to the image of the American family in this film?


     --what is the role and function of heroism here?  How does “heroism” in Candidate compare to what we saw in Valance?