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Manchurian pickup lines
Bar Harbor
Have y’all seen “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962 version)? It’s a really excellent thriller, full of marvelous scenes and performances, especially Angela Lansbury’s. But it is often more fun to talk about failures than successes, so I’m going to talk about Frank Sinatra’s performance.

Seen just on its own terms, it’s not a great performance. But it palls even more if you’ve read the book. For instance, in the book, Major Bennett Marco is an avid reader. In the movie, when a friend comes to his apartment for the first time and is surprised by the huge piles of books everywhere, Marco explains as follows: “...the, uh, truth of the matter is that I'm just interested, you know, in, uh, Principles of Modern Banking and, History of Piracy. [picking up books] Paintings of Orozco. Modern French Theater. The... Jurisprudential Factor of Mafia Administration. Diseases of Horses and novels of Joyce Cary and... Ethnic Choices of the Arabs. Things like that.” Sinatra somehow manages to convey the impression that he’s never actually opened any of them, and keeps them around as props to impress girls., and is slightly embarrassed at the transparency of the lie.

But the biggest disappointment is in the scene where he meets Janet Leigh. It’s on a train, and Major Marco is suffering from a nervous breakdown. He goes between cars to smoke, and she follows him. They exchange some small talk, including a strange bit where Sinatra asks the blonde blue-eyed Leigh if she is Arabic. After this, she takes him home, and dumps her fiance. In a movie with brainwashing and undercover spies, this made me, at least, sure that she was some sort of deep-cover control agent, ‘cause I couldn’t see any other explanation for her behavior. She wasn’t, though, which confused me the first time I saw the film.

But then I read the book. Leigh's character gets a lot more characterization in the book, as does her (boringly dumpable) fiance. And that odd exchange in the train gets rather more context.
"Are you Arabic?"


He held out his hand to be taken in formal greeting. "My name is Ben. It's really Bennet. I was named after Arnold Bennet."

"The writer?"

"No. A lieutenant colonel. He was my father's commanding officer at the time."

"What's your last name?"


"Major Marco. Are you Arabic?"

"No, but no kidding, I was sure you were Arabic. I would have placed your daddy's tents within twelve miles of the Hoggar range in the central Sahara. There's a town called Janet in there and a tiny little place with a very rude name that I couldn't possibly repeat even if you had a doctorate in geography. When the sun goes down and the rocks, which have been heated so tremendously all day, are chilled suddenly by the night, which comes across the desert like flung, cold, black stout, it makes a salvo like a hundred rifles going off in rapid fire. The wind is called the khamseen, and after a flood throws a lot of power down a mountainside the desert is reborn and millions and millions of white and yellow flowers come to bloom all across the empty desolation. The trees, when there are trees, have roots a hundred feet long. There are catfish in the waterholes. Think of that. Did you know that? Sure. Some of them run ten, twelve inches. Everywhere else in the Arab world the woman is a beast of burden. Among the Tuareg, the woman is queen, and the Hoggar are the purest of the Tuareg. They have a ceremony called ahal, a sort of court of love where the woman reigns with her beauty, her wit, or the quality of her blood. They have enormous chivalry, the Tuareg. If a man wants to say 'I love!' he will say 'I am dying of love.' I have dreamed many times of a woman I have never seen and will never see because she died in 1935, and to this day the Tuareg recall her in their poetry, in their ahals, telling of her beauty, intelligence, and her wit. Her name was Dassine oult Yemma, and her great life was deeply punctuated by widely known love affairs with the great warriors of her time. I thought you were she. For just an instant, back there in that car a little while ago, I thought you were she."
Ok, after *that*, I understand completely the whole “dump my fiance for this stranger” behavior! Maybe they even filmed this bit – but I can’t imagine Sinatra having had the panache to pull it off.
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I gotta try a line like that.

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