The snarkiest, wittiest, hippest, cleverest and (thanks to current events*) possibly least paranoid of Cold War Communist Conspiracy thrillers, taken from the Richard Condon novel, plays out with the circular logic of a M. C. Escher lithograph. Under George Axelrod & John Frankenheimer’s expert writing & directing, Frank Sinatra & Laurence Harvey are an unexpectedly well-matched pair of brainwashed Korean war vets who wind up on different sides of a fast unfolding political scheme they must stop yet barely understand. Bending timelines in realistic & surrealistic flashbacks without dropping a narrative stitch, only a couple of meet-cutes for the boys (Janet Leigh for Frankie; Leslie Parrish for LH) now look a little forced. Add on Angela Lansbury, a stand out even in a great supporting cast, with an astounding perf as Harvey’s manipulative mom, and watch as the generally comic tone imperceptibly darkens into suspense. (The kind of suspense that still works on a fourth or fifth viewing.) And who but Condon could pull off a have-your-Commie-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario using a fraudulent Commie Witch Hunt of military personnel as cover for a real government-takeover Commie Conspiracy. Topped by a further incestuous twist or two to the labyrinth. An incredible entertainment.
DOUBLE-BILL: Some think highly of the 2004 remake . . . who are these people? (See below.)
LINK: *Hear NYTimes’ resident conservative Ross Douthat’s thoughts: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/31/opinion/manchurian-president-trump-russia.html?_r=0