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Literature / The Manchurian Candidate

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The Manchurian Candidate is a 1959 Conspiracy Thriller novel by Richard Condon, about the son of a prominent political family who has been brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for the Communist Party. The novel was adapted for the screen in 1962 and again in 2004.

During The Korean War, Captain Bennett Marco and Sergeant Raymond Shaw are part of a U.S. infantry platoon that gets captured and taken to Manchuria, where they are brainwashed into believing that Shaw saved their lives in combat. Upon their return to the United States, Shaw is given the Medal of Honor on Marco's recommendation.

Years later Marco, now an intelligence officer, starts suffering from a recurring nightmare in which Shaw murders two of their comrades while Chinese and Russian officers look on. When Marco learns that another soldier from the platoon has been suffering from the same nightmare, he sets to uncovering the mystery... and makes a terrifying discovery. Shaw is being used as a sleeper agent for the Communists, who've programmed him as a guiltless assassin, subconsciously activated with a particular trigger: the Queen of Diamonds in a deck of cards. Thus activated, he kills the target, then immediately forgets about having done so. Shaw's controller is his own mother, who is working with the Communists to quietly overthrow the United States government via a "Manchurian candidate": her husband John Iselin, a Red-baiting senator who has been chosen as running mate for the leading presidential candidate (the plan being that Shaw will assassinate said candidate at the party's convention, thereby allowing Iselin to capture the nomination, and ultimately the White House, in the ensuing crisis). Marco is eventually able to break Shaw's programming using a deck of cards entirely composed of the Queen of Diamonds.

The 1962 film, directed by John Frankenheimer, stars Frank Sinatra as Marco and Laurence Harvey as Shaw. Angela Lansbury plays Shaw's mother Eleanor Iselin, while Janet Leigh plays Marco's love interest Rosie Cheyney. It is a very faithful adaptation of the novel, with much of the dialogue taken straight from the book.

The 2004 remake, directed by Jonathan Demme, updates the setting to Operation Desert Storm, makes the bad guys an evil corporation instead of communists, and stars Denzel Washington as Ben Marco and Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw. Meryl Streep plays Shaw's mother, Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw. It also adds a twist.

This novel and its adaptations contain examples of:

  • 555: The prefix for Rosie's phone number, "ELdorado 5", was at the time a phone company test number that gave a busy signal.
  • Abusive Parents: Eleanor is demeaning and controlling to her son, using him as a prop to build up her husband's political career and forcing him to break up with the woman he loves. When it's revealed she's also his hypnotic controller, she even orders him to kill the woman he loves, and in the book has sex with him while he's under a trance.
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Eleanor was only 17 when she gave birth to Raymond.
  • Actor Allusion: In the hotel scene, the soldiers have been brainwashed by Dr. Yen Lo to believe they are waiting out a storm in New Jersey (which the placard for the "flower club" reads as Spring Lake Hotel), while they are actually being displayed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the brainwashing to an audience of Communist officials. American actor Khigh Dhiegh who plays Dr. Lo was born in Spring Lake, New Jersey.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Shaw is much more charismatic and personable in the 2004 film, while Marco is depicted as an unstable Shell-Shocked Veteran Broken Ace.
  • Affably Evil: Yen Lo, a Chinese scientist. A consummate gentleman and scholar, in any other film he'd play the role of a wise old mentor. In this story, he creates sleeper assassins.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Bennett Marco is of partially Spanish extraction and is described as looking like an Aztec crossed with an Eskimo with "copper colored" skin and straight black hair with an "aboriginal look." He's played by Frank Sinatra in the 1962 film and Denzel Washington in the 2004 film.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The very end of the novel has two possible situations for what happens when Marco goes into the booth where Raymond has just shot his mother and stepfather: Raymond either shot himself of his own free will after Marco freed him from the brainwashing completely after Marco told him he killed Jocie himself, or Marco ordered him to shoot himself using the card deck and decided to Let Them Die Happy by never letting him realize the truth of what he did to Jocie. It's never clarified exactly which occurred.
  • Apologetic Attacker: In the 2004 remake, Shaw calls out out to Tom Jordan from the shore who is returning from a short kayaking trip. In a brief moment of lucidity, he apologizes to him over and over before eventually drowning Tom in the lake.
  • Antagonist Title: Downplayed. The titular Manchurian Candidate is Senator Iselin, who is working for the Russians, but he isn't nearly as much of an antagonist as his wife.
  • Artifact Title: The 2004 movie doesn't have anything to do with Manchuria, although the writers justify the title by involving a corporation called "Manchurian Global" in the plot.
  • Artistic License – Politics:
    • Johnny Iselin would not automatically become the party’s nominee for president because he was the choice for running mate of the presidential candidate. (Although given the circumstances of Eleanor's plot, it would be highly likely.)
    • Sen. Jordan says he will make a move on the Senate for the "impeachment" of Iselin, then Iselin does the same to him soon after. Senators are not impeached, they are expelled. (Presidents are impeached.)
  • Assassination Attempt: Both versions end with Raymond Shaw being ordered to assassinate the presidential nominee, so the hand-picked vice-presidential can become the nominee and hopefully become elected based on national sympathy.
  • Bad Boss: The Soviet spymaster for the eastern United States, Zilkov, wants to run a test to make sure Raymond is still capable of carrying out assassinations. Dr. Yen Lo suggests they have him murder one of Zilkov's own staff to minimize risk, which Zilkov says he would happily accept, but his organization is presently under acceptable strength as it is and he can't spare anyone.
  • Bad Habits: The brainwashed Raymond Shaw disguises himself as a priest to assassinate the Presidential candidate of one of the leading parties of the United States.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: In the novel, Mrs. Iselin makes a passing remark in her narration about how she once nailed the paws of her cocker spaniel to the floor because he wouldn't obey a "heel" command. This was just one of multiple pieces of Troubling Unchildlike Behavior she displayed and an early sign of her Control Freak nature, and her older brother is specifically noted as having seen this and been disturbed by it.
  • Berserk Button: Downplayed; Johnny doesn't fly off the handle when someone calls Sen. Iselin his father. He will let you know his extreme displeasure though.
  • Big Applesauce: Most of the story takes place in New York.
  • Big Bad: In the book and the original film, it's both Mrs. and Senator Iselin while in the 2004 film it's just Mrs. Iselin, who is a Senator in this version to combine both characters into one.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the film versions.
    • In the original, Marco manages to undo some of Shaw's brainwashing, which allows him to shoot his mother and Senator Iselin instead of the nominee, thereby foiling the communist plot. But the victory comes at the cost of Shaw's will to live, now being unable to live with the knowledge of the things he did when he was "activated."
    • In the remake, the plot is also foiled, with Raymond having Marco assassinate him along with his mother. But the film leaves it ambiguous whether Marco will ever fully recover from the entire ordeal.
  • Black Comedy: The 1962 film plays up the novel's absurd elements, adding a lot of dialogue and imagery that skews it towards comedy.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: A group of soldiers captured by the Chinese in the Korean War are brainwashed. (The term brainwashing is, in fact, believed to have originated during the Korean War, in reference to the coercion that the Chinese would use on prisoners.) Raymond Shaw becomes a Manchurian Agent for the Chinese, against his will and without his knowledge.
    Dr. Yen Lo: His brain has not only been washed, as they say... It has been dry cleaned.
  • Brainwashed: The original is the film most associated with this trope in the public mind. Shaw is brainwashed to become an assassin on command. However it's not really an example as his beliefs and values don't really change. It happens in the remake too, with little change but adds a twist.
  • Broken Ace: Raymond Shaw is a war hero and a rising star in politics but his issues with his mother allow him to become a brainwashed assassin.
  • Camera Tricks: The rule of thirds is dramatically averted in the first shot of Janet Leigh. She is presented right in the middle of the frame. It's a bit startling.
  • The Casanova: Marco is said to have at least two women every night, and Raymond's pretty good with women as well. Raymond was originally shy around women, but Dr. Yen Lo "removed" Raymond's sexual timidity during his brainwashing.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Ben Marco and Al Melvin in the 1962 film, both after seeing Raymond Shaw commit murder in their nightmares.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
    • In the remake, "Sargent Shaw? Sargent Raymond Shaw? Raymond Prentiss Shaw?"
    • "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"
    • Raymond is quick to remind just about everyone he meets that Johnny Iselin is his stepfather.
  • Celebrity Paradox: During the prologue set in 1952, one of the bar girls reads an old movie magazine with a cover shot of Tony Curtis and his then-wife, Janet Leigh (Eugenie Rose Chaney).
  • Character Shilling: Cleverly used, as all Raymond Shaw's fellow soldiers describe him as the "kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life", despite him being shown as a withdrawn and generally unpleasant person to be around. Turns out him and his entire unit have been brainwashed to portray him as a war hero in order to get him elected to high office.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Marco tries to light a cigarette on a train, but is so nervous and wound-up that he keeps fumbling the matches.
  • Colorblind Casting: Joe Adams (Psychiatrist) was the first black actor cast in a part that wasn't specified as a black character.
    • Played with for Corporal Melvin. This was one of the first movies that acknowledged that the army was integrated in Korea and used a black man in a role that would’ve certainly gone to a white man in any other movie at that time. However in his nightmare where he thinks he is at a ladies flower club he sees all the women as being black indicating that he’s accustomed to a segregated world otherwise.
  • Complexity Addiction: The Evil Plan involves capturing one particular American soldier alive (along with his unit) from all the soldiers fighting in Korea, brainwashing them into believing his heroism so Shaw will get the Medal of Honor, arranging for additional agents in the United States to keep an eye on them all... for a plot that doesn't require any of this. If Shaw is captured he just looks like a war veteran who went insane, which defeats the entire purpose to bring about an anti-communist fervor that will sweep Iselin to power. They just need an accurate shooter and a patsy with known communist sympathies to be the fall guy...umm...
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: The assassination of the presidential nominee was planned not only to occur on live television during the convention but at a specific point in the nominee's acceptance speech so his chosen Vice Presidential candidate, whose wife was behind the entire thing, could specifically be seen holding the dying nominee in his arms and have the photograph spread all over the world.
  • Conspiracy Thriller
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Raymond's mind control trigger is a queen of diamonds playing card. Guess what his Love Interest Jocelyn Jordan dresses as for the costume party?
    • Raymond is drinking in a bar when a bartender just happens to utter the trigger phrase "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?" as part of a completely unrelated discussion. Then the bartender says something that Raymond interprets as a command, "go jump in a lake", which Raymond does. If that's not enough all this happens just as Marco has come to meet Raymond at the bar. The fact that this happens and that Marco is there to see it is how the good guys figure out the nature of the conspiracy.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: The 2004 version replaces the Dirty Commies from the book with Manchurian Global, a multinational corporation that creates a Brainwashed Manchurian Agent to serve as their mole in the White House and another to serve as an assassin to get said mole elected as President.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The corporate board of Manchurian Global in the remake. What else can you label a bunch of people who create a Manchurian Agent for the sake of taking over the White House, with murders galore?
  • Death by Adaptation: Al Melvin in the 2004 film.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Raymond's mother is a Communist spy pulling strings to get her husband (and thus, herself) into the White House.
  • Dirty Communists: The ones who do the brainwashing in the novel and first film.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Implied to be Eleanor's next goal once she has taken power through her husband, in revenge for her communist associates having brainwashed her son into an assassin and forced her to be his controller.
  • Downer Ending: "Hell... hell...". This is how the 1962 film ends, as Marco looks out the window at the rain and thinks about how he was unable to save Raymond, who killed his controllers and then himself to stop the conspiracy.
  • Dramatic Irony: "I think, if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he's doing now." The woman he's saying this to is that Soviet agent.
    • Reality Subtext: In an introduction to a later edition of the novel, Richard Condon said he remembered reading an editorial which read something to the effect of, "If Joe McCarthy were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he's doing now," and started to wonder, "What if he really *was*?"
  • Dreaming the Truth: Marco has very realistic dreams about the brainwashing sessions, and they happen so often that they take a toll on his health. But he's smart enough to take notes on them.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the 1962 movie, Raymond makes the conscious decision to shoot himself, possibly because Ben's hypnotic suggestion to forget what he had done to his father-in-law and his wife had worn off. "Oh God, Ben!"
  • Emergency Authority: The conspirators' plan is to assassinate the leading presidential candidate, to provoke a reaction that, as Eleanor Iselin boasts, "They'll sweep us into the White House with powers that'll make martial law look like anarchy".
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Eleanor does show a twisted love for her son when she expresses anger over how he's been selected as the killer, and swears vengeance on those who did this to him once she comes into power.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Raymond's mom's name is Eleanor Iselin, but the narration only calls her "Raymond's mother". The Communist agent who keeps tabs on Raymond in America is only called "Raymond's operator". They're the same person.
  • Evil, Inc.: Manchurian Global in the 2004 film. They are not working for any government — the whole plot is being made for their own monetary interests (whichever they are).
  • Evil Matriarch: Eleanor Iselin. Having waaay too much political ambition, she manipulates and discards men, including her neurotic, brainwashed son, without hesitation.
  • Extreme Doormat: Raymond Shaw, although he is too arrogant to be a perfect fit, has many of the features of this. He has little drive or emotional depth, and he always caves in to his shrewish mother, even giving up the only girl he ever had any interest in just to shut her up.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Neither Marco nor Shaw liked one another at first. It's one of the few things that tips Marco off that something isn't right when he mentions the phrase "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I have ever known in my life." Eventually they do become good friends as, aside from Jocie, Marco is the only person that's ever seen a side of him besides his usual Jerkass persona. However, judging by the brainwashing scene, it was implied that from the start, Raymond did respect Marco and said he hated him the least.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: A complex example in the 2004 movie.
  • From Dress to Dressing: Raymond Shaw is bitten by a snake and childhood sweetheart Jocelyn Jordan rips off her blouse to make a tourniquet before dashing off bra-clad on her bicycle to get help. Totally innocent, but love blossoms. Then it gets complicated.
  • Generation Xerox: Played darkly, since Eleanor's father had an incestuous sexual relationship with her when she was a child, and Eleanor herself eventually has sex with Raymond.
  • Gender-Concealing Writing: Descriptions of Raymond's operator, his own mother are very careful to avoid any gendered pronouns to disguise their identity.
  • Gilligan Cut: In the 1962 movie, Senator Iselin asks his wife if they can finally decide on exactly how many communists are in the Department of Defense, since he keeps changing the number every time he repeats the claim. As he says this, he pours some Heinz 57 sauce on his steak. Cut to the floor of the Senate the next day, where Iselin claims that there are exactly 57 card-carrying communists in the Department of Defense ...
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Eleanor Iselin is running the evil plan to turn the United States into a dictatorship, but she's being bankrolled by Communist China, who she intends to nuke back to the Stone Age once in power for selecting her son to be their brainwashed agent.
  • The Grinch: While listening to a record of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in the 1962 movie, Raymond remarks "One day of Christmas is loathsome enough!"
  • Henpecked Husband / Parenting the Husband: The Manchurian Candidate in the novel is Mrs. Iselin's husband, John. She fusses over him day and night ... after all, world domination is at stake!
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the remake, Shaw and Marco are both able to partially overcome their programing and Shaw gets Marco to shoot him and his mother to stop the plot. In Shaw's case this is also an example of Taking You with Me.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Raymond is a top tier douchebag. He's rude, haughty, and he doesn't care about you. He developed this personality to cope with his vicious mother and loutish stepdad. The only people who have seen his vulnerable side are Major Marco and Jocie.
  • Hollywood Silencer: 1962 film. On a revolver, no less.
  • Hypno Fool: In the novel and the 1962 film, Shaw obeys a suggestion not even meant for him: "Why don't you go and take yourself a cab and go up to Central Park and go jump in the lake?" This helps him realize that something may be wrong with him.
    • Somewhat averted in the remake. Word of God says they intended to portray the brainwashed state as a state of heightened awareness rather than a zombielike trance. How easily this comes across is debatable, though.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Raymond's reason for keeping Ben in the dark at the end of the 1962 film version.
    You couldn't have stopped them; the army couldn't have stopped them. So I had to. That's why I didn't call. (Beat) Oh God, Ben!
  • IKEA Weaponry: The 1962 film is possibly the Trope Codifier, coming out just a year before From Russia with Love.
  • Incest Subtext: The Prentiss family. (In the original novel the incest is quite explicitly mentioned.) The original film version showed a very possessive and not at all chaste kiss between Eleanor and her son Raymond, and the 2004 remake featured heavy subtext in every scene that showed them together, including some very ambiguous touching and kissing moments. In the novel, Raymond's mother had an incestuous relationship with her father. When her brainwashed son is under her control she remarks how much he looks like her father and makes him do what she wants.
  • Informed Kindness: Subverted with Raymond Shaw. The novel repeatedly states "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Keep in mind that this is because his squad has been brainwashed into saying this anytime they're asked about him. In point of fact, he's something of a cold jerk and No Hero to His Valet. As Ben says in the 1962 film, "It's not that he's hard to like; he's impossible to like."
  • It Makes Sense in Context: You probably couldn't get away with a heated fight scene in a modern thriller wherein the hero continually screams "HOW DID THE OLD LADIES TURN INTO RUSSIANS?"
  • Justified Title: The title makes perfect sense, as a key part of the film (and the novel it's based on) takes place in Manchuria. The remake, however, trades the Korean War for Desert Storm and contrives a corporation called Manchurian Global so they could keep the title.
  • Karma Houdini: The Iselins are the only bad guys in the original who receive any kind of Laser-Guided Karma at all. The Dirty Communists in charge of Raymond's brainwashing, notably Yen-Lo, all get off scot-free.
  • Lady Macbeth: Eleanor Iselin is the scheming wife of a senator (who's basically her puppet) in the original novel and first film adaptation. John Iselin frequently complains about the rhetoric he's been given to read to the senate with its ever-changing total "Communists" in government. (This is especially hilarious given McCarthy's same inconsistencies.) Actually, it's at the insistence of his wife, Eleanor, who is thinking ten steps ahead and knows the press will keep asking "how many Communists" rather than "are there Communists." Eleanor plans to rule through her henpecked husband once he hijacks the Presidency. For an added, Oedipal twist, Eleanor is also the Lady Macbeth for her sleeper-agent son and his Communist controller, taking command of him and forcing him to further the communist (and later her) cause.
    • In the 2004 adaptation, Eleanor is a Senator herself. However, she is still stymied by the boy's club in Washington, and decides to groom her son for the Presidency.
  • Laughably Evil: Yen Lo is disarmingly quippy.
  • Manchurian Agent: The Trope Namer.
  • Mercy Kill: In the book, Marco orders a brainwashed Raymond to shoot his mother and stepfather, then shoot himself. He remarks, "No electric chair for a Medal of Honor man."
  • A Million Is a Statistic: A subtle example, on the newspaper that shows the headline of Thomas Jordan and his daughter's murder in the 1962 film version, there is a subheader of twenty people being killed in a hurricane. Twenty normal people dead is less important than one politician and his daughter.
  • Mind-Control Conspiracy: Communist brainwashers turn a soldier into an assassin through some sort of mind-controlling hypnosis.
  • Mind Rape: Raymond Shaw brainwashed by the Chinese during the Korean War as part of a decades-long plot to elect a Communist puppet to the Presidency of the United States.
  • Momma's Boy: Raymond Shaw is controlled utterly by his mother, to perhaps the most frightening possible degree.
  • Mood Whiplash: Part of the charm of this book. It jumps from campy political farce to bleak character study to suspenseful thriller and back. A lot. (This is less of a problem in the 2004 version.)
  • The Mole: Shaw and Marco, pretty unwillingly. Mrs. Iselin, very willingly.
  • Motive Rant: Angela Lansbury gets off a real corker of a speech.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Iselin Serial Escalation.
  • Name-Meaning Change: In the 2004 film, "Manchurian" is used in reference to an in-universe corporation, rather than the region in China as in the original novel and film.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Implied in both film versions; Jocelyn's murder and the devastation it inflicted on Raymond, even with no memory of having done it, was Eleanor's biggest blunder, as it became the first crack that started breaking the "linkages" permanently.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Iselin is an obvious parody of Joseph McCarthy.
    • Shaw's mother was based on Roy Cohn, McCarthy's lawyer at the time (and later a mentor of sorts to one Donald Trump).
  • No Party Given:
    • In the 2004 remake the political party responsible for all this is never named, even during a strategy session involving the electoral map. It's implied that they are Democrats, what with the mention of being denied the White House another four years and their strength being with the northeast, west, blacks, and college students. It nevertheless comes off as a little forced when even after Sen. Jordan's assassination newsreaders only ever refer to "his party."
    • Only in the 1962 film is the Republican Party specifically named. (Raymond's mother's party is also not named in the book.) Reinforced by all of the Lincoln imagery the Iselins surround themselves with. At one point, Mrs. Iselin also mocks Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat's 1956 Presidential candidate.
  • Noodle Incident: In the 2004 remake, Delp says he still owes Marco one for "what happened in Albania".
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Laurence Harvey certainly sounds like he's not trying to sound like an American, but on the DVD Commentary, John Frankenheimer said that Harvey was coached to put on an American accent and he thought it was very convincing. He also claimed that he felt Kennedy's Bahston accent would justify any English-ness in Harvey's voice, so he probably just had a tin ear for accents. Harvey's accent is all the more jarring in that his character is supposed to be an all-American war hero, though it does help emphasize his unlikeable qualities. Angela Lansbury sounds exactly the same as in any other role. It's especially apparent when Lansbury and Harvey are in the same scene.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Raymond wakes up in the hospital after a hit-and-run accident (not really) he finds his mother at his bedside, clearly having been crying. He's startled by how disheveled she looks, and while he accuses her of putting on an act it's implied that this is her mask genuinely slipping as a result of realizing that's she's to be the operator for her own son as an assassin.
  • Oh, Crap!: Epic ones by Eleanor in both films; a split-second glimpse of her reaction in the 1962 version, and a very slow and drawn-out moment for her in the 2004 film; in both versions she realizes Raymond has broken through his brainwashing.
  • Parental Incest: Part of Ellie Iselin's Freudian Excuse is that she was repeatedly raped by her father as a child. Late in the story, she has sex with Raymond while he's brainwashed (though this is only implied in the film versions).
  • Phrase Catcher: Whenever anyone who served with Raymond Shaw hears his name, their response is "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." They've been mentally conditioned to say it, and Shaw is in fact a self-absorbed coward with severe mommy issues.
  • Playing Card Motifs: Both the book version and the original film have the Queen of Diamonds be the trigger for Raymond Shaw's brainwashing. Discussed by the Army psychologist as a reference to Shaw's mother.
  • Power Hair: Shaw's mother in both movies.
  • Present Company Excluded: In the 2004 film, Raymond says this to Marco.
    Raymond: Who would I ask? My old Army "buddies," who love and adore me for saving their pathetically unimportant — present company excluded — asses?
  • Private Military Contractors: In the 2004 remake, the Communist conspiracy of the original book and 1962 movie was updated for the post-Cold War times by making the villains a MegaCorp named Manchurian Global instead, which also happens to be a PMC, or at least have a PMC division. Part of the reason the wanted the eponymous Manchurian Candidate to be their sleeper agent in the White House was so they could get him to send their troops into the Middle East, among other reasons.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Sgt. Raymond Prentiss Shaw is awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing his platoon.The action never happened, they were kidnapped and brainwashed, and Captain Marco was brainwashed into nominating him for the Medal.
  • Red China: The 1962 film.
  • Red Herring: Rosie is played by then A-Lister Janet Leigh and is prominently billed. Her introductory scene is very bizarre and seems to suggest that she’s the American handler Dr. Lo mentions. But in the end she has absolutely zero plot relevance.
  • Remarried to the Mistress: In the novel, where Raymond Shaw's mother was having an affair with John Iselin while still married to Raymond's father, and eventually divorced him to marry Iselin when she became pregnant with Raymond's half-brother.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Raymond's mother only instigates having sex with him after she sees him smile and is reminded of her own long-dead father, with whom she had a sexual relationship when she was a child.
  • The Remake: The 2004 film shares the basic plot of its predecessors, but many things are changed.
  • Royally Screwed Up: The novel alludes pretty frankly to incest between Eleanor and her father Tyler, and relates with equal candor at least one instance of same between Eleanor and her son Raymond. While he's under mind control, no less. All three are driven, passionate patriots working at high levels of office — Tyler was a diplomat, Eleanor is a Senator and Raymond is a Representative running for Vice President. Over the course of his campaign it is revealed that his mother has been involved for many years in a conspiracy which began with the Congressional Medal of Honor and ends with an assassination attempt on the president-elect and, ultimately, the deaths of both Raymond and Eleanor.
  • Satellite Love Interest: In the novel and 1962 film Rosie pops up out of nowhere, helps calm Marco down at a point where the nightmares are really getting to Marco, and then does absolutely nothing else except fill out some dresses nicely in the movie.note 
  • Satire: The novel satirized Red Scare politics of the 1950s and McCarthyism in particular. Extremely Juvenalian.
  • Sentimental Drunk: Raymond Shaw becomes both more pleasant and more melancholic when he drinks.
  • Seppuku: The death of Raymond in the novel has undertones of this. After breaking out of his mind control at the last minute and shooting the Soviet conspirators, he explains himself to Marco before shooting himself in the head. Marco, actually orders him to commmit suicide rather than go on trial for the murders he did not willingly commit.
  • Setting Update: The remake is set in the time period during and after the first Gulf War, as opposed to the original's Korean War setting.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Played With in the remake when Marco goes to the library to do his research. Marco notices a surveillance camera in the library and this feeds his paranoia even though nobody in particular was spying on him.
  • Spanner in the Works: In the 1962 movie, unlike the book, Ben's attempts to break Raymond out of the Communists' hypnosis not only succeed; they also enable Raymond to resist his suggestions, and to realize that neither he, Ben, nor the army could put an end to the Communists' plot. So instead of calling Ben as Ben instructed, Raymond goes undercover and stops them on his own.
  • Spy Speak: The strange rhythms of Marco's conversations with Rosie (see above) led some fans to theorize that they are elaborate codes. (And then you start wondering whether Marco is aware of this...)
  • Straw Hypocrite: Senator Iselin and his wife are really communist agents pushing witch hunt tactics to discredit anti-communism and pave the way for the US to fall under communist rule.
  • Take Our Word for It: The speech that Senator Iselin was supposed to read after the assassination. We never hear it. It's described as:
    Mrs. Iselin: The speech is short. But it's the most rousing speech I've ever read. It's been worked on, here and in Russia, on and off, for over eight years. I shall force someone to take the body away from him and Johnny will really hit those microphones and those cameras with blood all over him, fighting off anyone who tries to help him, defending America even if it means his own death, rallying a nation of television viewers to hysteria, to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: There's a subtle one, in that there are "Those that enter a room and turn the television set on, and those that enter a room and turn the television set off."
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Teased at in the remake. Marco is talking with his... let's say practical psychologist about his dreams, when the doctor abruptly asks "What if this is all a dream and you are really still back in Kuwait?". Given the setting and tone of the movie, and some of the later events (including how the aforementioned psychologist simply vanishes not long afternote ), there's really no reason to totally discount this theory. In the DVD commentary Jonathan Demme remarks that at any point in the course of the film it would be totally plausible to cut to Ben waking up.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Senator Jordan, upon seeing his son-in-law pointing a gun at him, decides to ask him "What is that you're holding? Is that a silencer?" instead of, you know, running. It probably wouldn't have worked, but still.
  • Trigger Phrase: The original movie has both a Trigger Phrase ("Why don't you pass the time by playing solitaire?") and a Trigger Card: The Queen of Diamonds. The remake has a more personalized Trigger Phrase, in the form of their names and old ranks, recited in a certain specific way.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Besides the fact that she was already using her sexuality to manipulate men as a preteen as a result of her father's abuse, Ellie mentions an incident when she nailed her cocker spaniel's feet to the floor after the dog wouldn't obey a "stay" command.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Featured prominently. The soldiers of Shaw's and Marco's platoon that were killed but didn't die in the initial ambush were slaughtered by their own brainwashed brothers to test that such a thing was possible once they were activated. And then there's also Shaw killing his mother (Marco killing Shaw and Mrs. Iselin in the remake).
  • Villainous Incest: Both film versions show Eleanor coming onto her son Raymond, whose consent is dubious given his brainwashing, and the novel on which it was all based includes frank mentions of consummated incest, both between Eleanor and her father Tyler and between Eleanor and Raymond. Eleanor figures as a villain in both the novel and the original film version. In the remake, she's a likable character who does horrible things with good intentions, and in all three works the incestuous element is definitely used to enhance her creepiness.
  • Villainous Mother-Son Duo: Perhaps the most iconic and horrifying example of this. Manipulative Bitch extraordinaire, Senator Eleanor Iselin has her son brainwashed into becoming an assassin by Chinese Communists so that she can use him to kill all of her husband's rivals for the presidency. Her husband's of the henpecked variety so if he were President, she'd still presumably be the one wearing the trousers and therefore President in all but name, making Eleanor an example of Lady Macbeth as well. Fortunately her son, Raymond Shaw is ultimately able to break free of her mind-control. There's a definite Incest Subtext between them which is made very obvious in the films and outright confirmed in the book. Eleanor was sexually abused by her own father, making her an arguable Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
  • Villains Out Shopping: In the 1962 adaptation, the Red Chinese psychologist Yen Lo comes to America to examine his brainwashed subject. After a preliminary conversation he announces he's going to Macy's with long list of things to buy from his wife.
  • Wham Line: "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"
    • The 1962 film's revealing of Raymond's American handler:
      Raymond: [surreptitiously to Marco, while answering the phone] It's my American operator. [resuming to the phone] Yes, mother.
    • Repeated in the 2004 film, in the same context but to a different character: "Major Marco? Major Bennett Marco? Bennett Ezekiel Marco?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It makes sense, since his role in the conspiracy is over with, but it still feels odd when the mastermind behind the programming, Dr. Yen Lo, completely disappears from the movie midway through.
  • What We Now Know to Be True: Apparently, it's an "old wives' tale" that hypnotized people can't be forced to do things that are against their natures. While it doesn't initially stop him, the act of killing Jocelyn visibly does a number on Raymond and contributes to his overcoming his conditioning later on.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Raymond is finally reunited with Jocie, his First Love from when he was a teenager, and elopes with her on a terrific honeymoon. He then shoots her while brainwashed after she walks in on him killing her father.
  • Yellow Peril: Dr. Yen Lo, the sinister brainwasher in the 1962 film. Dr. Lo was played by Khigh Dhiegh (born Kenneth Dickerson, pronounced to rhyme with "Friday"), a American actor of North African ancestry, who specialized in playing sinister Asian villains, most notably Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-O.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: In the remake, all efforts to reach out to Marco fail until he decides at the last possible second to have himself and his mother get shot instead of the president-elect, thwarting the conspiracy's plans.

Now, why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?