She’s a cool drink of water, Angela Lansbury is.
Having a moron for a husband is a minor consequence for Lansbury. In fact, she needs a moron if she’s going to scheme her way into the White House. It doesn’t matter who the moron – er, husband – is, as long as he can take direction.
The Manchurian Candidate stars Frank Sinatra as a U.S. Army veteran, recently retired from the Korean War. Sinatra’s character is a broken man – he cannot sleep or concentrate on his work because he suffers from recurring nightmares. These nightmares always revolve around a strange event that may or may not have happened during his tour of duty.
It’s only when Sinatra reconnects with his superior officer (Laurence Harvey) that he begins to piece together the events in Korea, and what they might mean for the United States.
Meanwhile, Lansbury (who is also Harvey’s mother) continues to drag her poor slob of a husband towards the White House. Because her son came home from Korea a decorated war hero, she’s determined to use him as a prop in her husband’s PR campaign.
In this film, Lansbury is a cool, neatly-pressed blonde, with a severely-sprayed ‘do and classic strand of pearls. She is very First Lady-ish, if not downright Presidential. Even in this harshly-lit film, she is stunning in her tailored tweeds. She’s every bit the Movie Star.
And every bit the Villain.
Lansbury is a Take Charge kind of Villain. She either barks out orders or softly cajoles you into compliance. She smiles and gently presses your arm as though she were your best friend – or she snaps you in two like a brittle cookie. She’s a detonator, this one.
But in most scenes, Lansbury is calm, regarding others with with thinly-veiled contempt. Her expressions reveal the work it takes to drive a fool in politics. In one scene she loses patience with Gregory. “You’re going to look like [an] idiot if you don’t get in there and do exactly what you’re told,” she shouts. Gregory, a seasoned political candidate (and a grown man), whimpers like a kicked puppy.
She takes a different tactic with her beloved son, Harvey, who resists everything about her. In outlining her Master Plan, Lansbury tells him, “[This] will sweep us into the White House with powers that will make martial law look like anarchy.”
Control of the White House! Power! Martial Law!
Is this a villain, or is this a Villain? Here is a woman capable of hijacking an American election and making it look like an act of democracy. Villains don’t get any more cunning than this.
Her genius lies in making everything look easy. Just look at this laundry list of duties:
- Single-handedly getting an idiot elected to the White House.
- Mastering mind-control techniques.
- Breaking up romances if they’re politically inopportune.
- Juggling her interests with those of her mysterious co-conspirators.
The Manchurian Candidate, besides being a top-notch political thriller, shows us a diabolical Mother-Villain at work. If you haven’t seen this film yet, put it on your Bucket List immediately.
The Manchurian Candidate: starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and our gal Angela Lansbury. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by George Axelrod.M.C. Productions/United Artists, 1962, B&W, 127 mins.
This post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin and yours truly. Be sure to read all the villainous contributions.