Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate.
Everett Collection

After returning from the Korean War, former army captain turned major Bennet Marco (Frank Sinatra) is reassigned to army intelligence, only to be haunted by a recurring nightmare involving a ladies’ gardening club and a murderous act committed by one of his men, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). John Frankenheimer’s lethal ice pick of a political thriller, adapted from Richard Condon’s novel and involving a brainwashed assassin whose actions are controlled by communist operatives, opened in late October 1962, smack in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That confluence is hair-raising enough, but if anything, The Manchurian Candidate has come to feel more relevant since 2016. The picture deftly walks the line between being pleasurably suspenseful and so unnerving that it teases out fears you didn’t know you had—not least because Angela Lansbury, as the assassin’s mother and handler, casts such a sinister, seductive spell. The incestuous kiss she bestows on her son, in one of the movie’s most rattling scenes, is just one manifestation of a world gone wrong in a million ways. There are no ghosts or demons in The Manchurian Candidate, but there are monsters. It’s more chilling than any horror movie.

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