The Manchurian Candidate

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Manchurian Candidate Movie Poster Image
Classic Cold War satirical thriller stands test of time.
  • PG-13
  • 1962
  • 126 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Puts forth a forceful message condemning dirty politics, hypocrisy, war-mongering, and deceit.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Major Bennett Marco is an avid reader, and one who will stop at nothing to find out the truth about what happened to him and his fellow soldiers while fighting in the Korean War.


Gun violence. Characters are shown being shot and killed. Wartime violence, as soldiers fight in battle. Two characters get into a fist fight, knocking into furniture, breaking glass, and sustaining injuries. A character is strangled to death.


Early in the film, soldiers are shown cavorting in a Korean brothel during the Korean War.


"Hell" is as strong as it gets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As a movie from the early 1960s, there is frequent cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. In one scene, the two main characters drink alcohol together, and act intoxicated as they open up about their lives.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Manchurian Candidate is the 1962 Cold War thriller starring Frank Sinatra as a Korean War veteran who begins to suspect that he and the other soldiers in his platoon were brainwashed. There is gun violence, as some characters are murdered in cold blood, shown falling to the floor dying. Another character is strangled to death. As a movie from the early 1960s, there is frequent cigarette smoking and drinking. The political intrigue, Cold War satire, and intricacies of the plot's twists and turns will make this best appreciated by teens, and as a classic movie from the Cold War era, it should inspire lively discussion about its relevance to today's world.

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What's the story?

After returning home from the Korean War, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) has the same recurring nightmare. He is at a ladies garden party with the other soldiers in his platoon, but soon realizes that this is all the product of brainwashing by Communists while taken prisoner by the enemy, and sees fellow soldier, the dour Raymond Shaw, murder in cold blood two members of his platoon at the orders of a Chinese psychiatrist conducting an experiment. As his nightmares begin to reveal what actually happened, he pays a visit to Shaw, who won the Medal of Honor for allegedly rescuing Marco and the others from behind enemy lines. From Shaw, he learns that others in the platoon are having the same nightmare, and learns that the mere mention of the card game Solitaire sends Shaw into a hypnotic trance which makes him susceptible to any suggestion. While Shaw tries to contend with his evil, Communist-hating mother(Angela Lansbury) and his stepfather -- a drunken senator engaging in Communist witch hunt theatrics to further his grip on power, Marco must find out who wants Shaw to be a hypnotized assassin, why, and if he can be stopped.

Is it any good?

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is a timeless Cold War classic, at once both a riveting thriller and a satire of ideologues of all stripes. While certainly a product of its era -- Cold War paranoia, smoking indoors in public places, snappy slang in the dialogue -- its messages on leaders, politicians, and the treatment of soldiers has relevance well beyond that time. This is regarded by many to be one of Frank Sinatra's best acting performances, and it is impossible not to loathe Angela Lansbury as she plays the spiteful and conniving wife of a drunken senator who uses Communist witch hunts and her own son to advance their shared political ambitions.

While the themes and messages might go over the heads of younger viewers, the mischievous plot twists and turns as well as the manner in which deeper meanings are conveyed should resonate with older, politically engaged teens, and should inspire lively discussion.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • One year after its release, in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination, this film was widely rumored to be prevented from being shown in theaters by lead actor Frank Sinatra, as well as by the studio who made the film. While there are contradictory reports as to the truth of these rumors, why might such a story be considered plausible to some?

  • As, in part, a satire of the times, this film was protested by some as "Communist propaganda," and by others as "Right-Wing propaganda." Do you think either side has a valid point, or do you think those who protested are the embodiment of the very thing being satirized in the film?

  • What does this film say to today's audiences about ideology, ideologues, politicians, and the treatment of solders? How can a movie from fifty years ago have relevance to today?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love politics and thrillers

Themes & Topics

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