By the time The Manchurian Candidate hit theaters in 1962, Joseph McCarthy was long disgraced and dead. So James Gregory’s bloated portrayal of a senator whose only discernible talent is in accusing every available political adversary of communist sympathies is removed enough to be funny, and sharp enough to make you hate him. The real star of the film, though, isn’t Gregory, or Frank Sinatra, or even the excellent John McGiver as the literate, principled, old-school liberal; it’s Angela Lansbury as Gregory’s wife and the lusty mother of a brainwashed Laurence Harvey. Sure, she’s a Soviet spy, but her true evil reveals itself in the home, where she smooches her hypnotized son and promises a new regime that will make “martial law seem like anarchy.” Some of The Manchurian Candidate’s overly tidy ironies may seem like old hat, but the pacing’s damn good, and besides: People are still howling about a certain Hawaiian birth certificate.
THE FILM SHOWS AT 8 P.M. AT AMERICAN CITY DINER & CAFÉ, 5532 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 244-1949.