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What Have They Built You to Do?: The Manchurian Candidate and Cold War America

Matthew Frye Jacobson
Gaspar González
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsgvx
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  • Book Info
    What Have They Built You to Do?
    Book Description:

    In What Have They Built You to Do?—a key line of dialogue from the original film—Matthew Frye Jacobson and Gaspar González undertake an ambitious reexamination of The Manchurian Candidate. Through their multifaceted analysis of the film in all its incarnations, Jacobson and González raise provocative questions about power and anxiety in American politics and society from the Cold War to today._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9465-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    Near the conclusion ofThe Manchurian Candidate,as Bennett Marco begins to peel away layers of false memory and dimly to make out the communist plot whose method has included his own brainwashing, he urgently presses Raymond Shaw, another pawn in this monstrous game, “What have they built you to do?” This is of coursethequestion within the cosmos of the film: Marco’s mind has been tampered with and his memory of events rewritten; Shaw’s will has been occupied, as it were, by a foreign power, his very agency made the instrument of another’s intention, but to what end?...

  4. 1 Backstory: Frank Sinatra and the Politics of Cold War Cultural Production
    (pp. 1-29)

    Backstory is the screenwriting term for the portion of the plot that unfolds before the opening scene of a film. In the case ofThe Manchurian Candidate—the project itself—the backstory has largely been overlooked. In the most sustained critique of the film, cultural historian Greil Marcus treatsThe Manchurian Candidateas having virtually materialized from out of nowhere: “Something—something in the story, something in the times, in the interplay of various people caught up consciously in the story, and consciously, unconsciously, or half-consciously in the times—came together.”¹

    To hear Marcus tell it, no one associated with...

  5. 2 A Culture of Contradiction: Affluence and Anxiety
    (pp. 30-51)

    The narrative plot ofThe Manchurian Candidate,like the fanciful political plot residing at its center, is founded on a series of contradictions and paradoxes that are obscured behind a veil of stark, black-and-white polarities. This is a Manichaean drama of good and evil, to be sure, but the two are never as easily sifted as they first appear: the anticommunist crusadeisa communist plot, most fundamentally; Medals of Honor are dreamed up and bestowed in treachery; good men die at the hand of conspiracies whose existence they have doubted; manipulators are manipulated, and assassins, assassinated. The logical twists...

  6. 3 Five from the Fifties: Threat, Containment, and the Rise of the Security State in Postwar Film
    (pp. 52-81)

    Where doesThe Manchurian Candidatecome from, other than the fertile imaginations of Condon, Axelrod, and Frankenheimer? Greil Marcus, for his part, sums up—really, almost dismisses—the film as consisting of “bits and pieces of Hitchcock and Orson Welles, ofPsychoandCitizen Kane,most obviously— perhaps less obviously, but more completely, takingInvasion of the Body Snatchersout of science fiction and returning it to history.”¹

    While peggingPsycho(and, one assumes, Norman Bates’s overheated identification with his mother) as a main source of inspiration may be taking these things too literally, Marcus is not entirely wrong. As...

  7. 4 Bullwhip and Smear: Reading McCarthy
    (pp. 82-99)

    The figure of Johnny Iselin is so patently Joseph McCarthy himself that to say he is “a McCarthytype” would be a ludicrous misrepresentation. This is no small matter, asThe Manchurian Candidate’s depiction was among the very first full-throated satires of McCarthy, and it remains among the very best. But what is the method of this satire, and what precisely is its significance? Measuring the meaning of McCarthyism in 1960, Richard Rovere wrote that McCarthy had “held two presidents captive—or as nearly captive as any Presidents of the United States have ever been held; in their conduct of...

  8. 5 Like Fu Manchu: Mapping Manchuria
    (pp. 100-129)

    When Ben Marco likens Dr. Yen Lo to an iconic literary and screen villain of the 1920s and 1930s, he is executing a powerful double maneuver. First, he is demonstrating yet again the mass-mediated quality of the organization man’s consciousness: that he can apparently see and comprehend Yen Lo only according to the ready-made template provided by pulp novels and Hollywood films speaks volumes about the borrowed quality of Marco’s own thought processes. And second, he is further reifying that ready-made image forusby insisting on how closely this “real” Chinese figure approximates the Hollywood stereotype. By Marco’s vicious...

  9. 6 The Red Queen: Sexuality, Subversion, and the American Family
    (pp. 130-149)

    “The queen of diamonds,” says Yen Lo, “in so many ways reminiscent of Raymond’s dearly loved and hated mother, is the second key that will clear his mechanism for any assignments.” The original referent here would seem to be the murderous queen in Lewis Carroll’sAlice in Wonderland,whose response to every rising circumstance was “Off with their heads!” The association withAliceis reinforced when Jocie appears at the Iselins’ costume party dressed precisely after the fashion of the playing cards in “The Queen’s Croquet-Ground” (and reinforced, too, perhaps, by the absurdist aesthetic of the brainwashing sequences and the...

  10. 7 Strangers on a Train: The Perils of Cold War Courtship
    (pp. 150-167)

    The Manchurian Candidate,more than four decades after its release, remains a disturbing film, its litany of obscenities—Raymond Shaw’s strangling of Ed Mavole, his point-blank execution of Bobby Lembeck, his murder of Senator Jordan and of his beloved Jocie, the revelation of his mother’s incestuous love for him, his killing of her, and, finally, his own violent death—constituting a relentless, near-unbearable assault on the viewer. And yet, for many, it is the secondary story line, the romance between Marco and Rosie, that lingers as a troubling preoccupation after the last frame. Who is Rosie, and what does she...

  11. 8 Cold War Redux: From Kennedy to Reagan’s America and Beyond
    (pp. 168-184)

    “If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won’t know what it’s all about!” promised the movie poster forThe Manchurian Candidate.“When you’ve seen it all, you’ll swear there’s never been anything like it!”

    When the film opened in the fall of 1962, most reviewers agreed that it was quite novel. Whether that was a good thing or not, however, was open to debate.The New York Times’s Bosley Crowther, acknowledging Frankenheimer’s debt to the Master of Suspense, called it “as wild a piece of fiction as anything Hitchcock might present,” adding that “it could serve...

  12. Postscript
    (pp. 185-194)

    In 2004, director Jonathan Demme’s remake ofThe Manchurian Candidatewas released. The film retained the basic contours of the original story, with some significant changes: Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington), Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), and their platoon are taken captive, not in Korea, but during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. A few years later, war hero Shaw is a U.S. congressman. His controlling mother (as in the original, the term will be exploited to its fullest potential) is the U.S. senator from New York. Manchuria, in this case, is not a place, but a multinational corporation specializing in defense contracts:...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 195-200)
    M. F. J.
  14. Notes
    (pp. 201-218)
  15. Index
    (pp. 219-234)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)