Warning! For anyone who has yet to see The Manchurian Candidate, the following video contains one rather large spoiler—but if anyone is going to spoil the surprise, it might as well be the great Angela Lansbury.
With its simmering tensions and fractured psyches, John Frankenheimer’s 1962 Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate presented an ideal platform for its cast to deliver some of the finest work of their careers. As Major Bennett Marco, Frank Sinatra is heroic yet vulnerable in his search for the truth, and Laurence Harvey is fascinating as Raymond Shaw—alternately a dead-eyed, brainwashed assassin and a lovesick loner. But it’s Dame Angela Lansbury’s chilling and complex portrayal of Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin, the sinister matriarch of a political family, that remains one of the film’s most captivating elements.
Having worked with Frankenheimer previously in his film All Fall Down, released earlier in 1962, Lansbury didn’t hesitate when the director suggested she take on a crucial role in his next film. She recalls being immediately drawn to the role: “There were qualities that were inherent in her that would intrigue any actress,” she notes in a new program for our release of The Manchurian Candidate (out now on Blu-ray and DVD). And although Sinatra had suggested that Frankenheimer consider other actors, including Lucille Ball, for the role, the director had his mind set on Lansbury. And with good reason: she earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance and took home a best supporting actress Golden Globe award.
Below, watch a clip from our interview with Lansbury, who visited Criterion back in November, in which she discusses the importance of imagination in acting and how she drew on that quality for the film’s shocking climax.