Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Jumping the Tracks of Reality. Lovably

A few scenes of deranged, if temperate, incomprehensibility from the original 1962 John Frankenheimer film, The Manchurian Candidate.

Frank Sinatra, as Major Bennett Marco, is asked by his boss about all the bizarre books piled up in his apartment. He responds with this, as he picks them up and reads the titles:
The, uh, truth of the matter is I'm just interested, you know, in the, uh, principles of modern banking and the history of piracy...paintings of Orozco, modern French theater, the jurisprudential factors of mafia administration, diseases of horses, and novels of Joyce Cary, and ethnic choices of the Arabs...things like that.
That was a sequence of words I never could have suspected might come out of Sinatra's mouth. And he delivered it in a sort of nonchalant but confused fashion. As if he didn't really know what the deal was with these books but didn't really care. Crazy talk, though! Jurisprudential factors of mafia administration? Ethnic choices of Arabs? Man. If there are such things as these, I'm interested. And, heck, for that matter, the diseases of horses, history of piracy, and even principles of modern banking. Dammit, Major Marco, you've roused my curiosity.

There's never an explanation given for those books or his comments about them.

Roger Ebert also notes that this is a film that, in his words, "jumps the tracks of reality." I'll let Ebert set the scene for and begin the excerpt of some really insane dialogue:
Consider the peculiar first meeting between the Sinatra character and Rosie (Janet Leigh), who will become his fiancee. He's so shaky on a train that he can't light a cigarette. She follows him to the platform between cars, lights his cigarette, and then says, "Maryland's a beautiful state."
Sinatra: "This is Delaware."

Leigh: "I know. I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the track on this stretch. But nonetheless, Maryland is a beautiful state. So is Ohio, for that matter."

Sinatra: "I guess so. Columbus is a tremendous football town. You in the railroad business?"

Leigh: "Not anymore."

[A moment ensues of some miscellaneous lame topics I ignored and forgot. It includes the phrase "more or less."]

Sinatra: I never could figure out what that phrase meant: "more or less." [Then, a total non-sequitur:] You Arabic? [She's not even remotely.]

[They briefly discuss his name, Bennett Marco.]

Leigh: Major Marco....Are you Arabic? [Of course he's not.] Let me put it another way. Are you married?

Ebert again:
Soon she has broken off an engagement and taken up with Marco, leaving us to wonder what in the hell that dialogue was about. Was it in code? Was Marco hallucinating? It seems strange that the Chinese brainwashed the entire patrol, but needed only Raymond as an assassin. Why, then, spare the others with their nightmares and suspicions? Is Sinatra's Maj. Marco another Manchurian sleeper, and is Rosie his controller? If you look at their scenes carefully, you find that she broke off her engagement immediately after their awkward train meeting and before their first date. Reflect on the scene where she talks about Marco beating up "a very large Korean gentlemen," and ask yourself what she means when she calls this man, who she has never seen, "the general." I don't know. Maybe Rosie just talks funny. It would be a nice touch, though, for this screwball story to have another layer circling beneath.
I don't deny there might be this other layer. I suspect Ebert may be right. The thing is, though, nothing is ever made of it. There's never any explanation in the movie of her-as-contoller or any real development of it in the plot. Which at least allows us to enjoy it as pure zany madness.

This little speech by Raymond Shaw, the central character, to Marco can't be made less ridiculous by his brainwashing, though. It's a whole other deal. He's just pathetic and hilariously so.
Years later I realized, Ben, that I am not very loveable. No, no. Don't contradict me. I am not loveable. Some people are loveable, and other people are not loveable. I am not loveable. Oh, but I was very loveable with Jocie. Ben, you cannot believe how loveable I was. In a way. [He complains about his horrible mother for a minute and then gets into the Jocie anecdotes, which include the following lines.] We were together every minute after that. You just cannot believe, Ben, how loveable the whole damn thing was. All summer long we were together. I was loveable. Jocie was loveable. The senator was loveable. The days were loveable. The nights were loveable. And everybody was loveable. Except, of course, my mother.


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Three years later, I cannot guess why I chose to spell it "loveable" instead of "lovable." And then did it differently in the post title.

10:56 PM  
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