The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
- Its emphasis on brainwashing which Americans were afraid might be used by Russian and
Chinese communists against them (the film was released in America on October 24, 1962, at the height of the
Cuban missile crisis over Russian missiles in Cuba).
- The first karate fight ever on film .
- Reviving the career of Angela Lansbury, star of TV's Murder, She
- Its 2004 re-make starring Denzil Washington (as Marco, pictured right) and Meryl
Streep (Shaw’s mother, pictured right below) in which the brainwashers are not communists but a global
Early 1950’s America (when it was fighting communist North Korea, supported by China and
Russia, in the Korean War).
American Richard Condon’s (pictured right) 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate.
John Frankenheimer (pictured right below).
None but Angela Lansbury got a nomination for best supporting
Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), American war hero.
Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), his mother (pictured right).
Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), his army boss.
Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh), chief communist brainwasher.
Sergeant Raymond Shaw (pictured right) returns home from the Korean War, a hero after
being kidnapped and brainwashed by the Russian communists in Manchuria, China, with his patrol
(including his chief, Captain Bennett Marco).
The chief brainwasher is a Korean doctor, Yen Lo, who uses a Queen of Diamonds
playing card as the trigger for Shaw to obey his orders (that included killing two of his patrol).
Shaw hates his strongly anti-communist parents. His power crazy mother, Eleanor, controls his
stepfather, John Iselin, a senator and vice presidential candidate.
Shaw shocks them by deciding to work for a principled (and they think communist) New York publisher,
Holborn Gaines. Yen Lo (pictured right below) orders Shaw to kill him to
test the effectiveness of his brainwashing.
Marco is now working for Army Intelligence. Like another patrol member, he has been brainwashed
- think Shaw is a great guy.
- forget Shaw has killed two of their comrades.
They recall these murders in a recurring nightmare.
- goes to New York to find out the truth.
- on the train befriends an attractive lady, Rosie Chaney (pictured right).
Chunjin, (sent by Yen Lo) is hired by Shaw as his valet. When Marco sees him answering
Shaw’s door, he recognizes him as the man who led his patrol into an ambush. He punches him, leading to the
first karate fight on film.
Marco is taken to the nearest police station, but Rosie manages to secure his release. He:
- manages to persuade his bosses in Army Intelligence to lead a joint CIA and FBI
investigation into Shaw and his activities.
As Marco joins him in a bar, Shaw is playing cards and turns over the Queen of Diamonds that again triggers off
Shaw jumps into the lake in Central Park (after hearing the bartender tell someone else to do it), but
Marco pulls him out of the freezing cold water. Shaw doesn’t remember anything.
With the help of a psychiatrist, Marco (pictured right) works out the power of the Queen of Diamonds because of
its likeness to Shaw’s manipulative mother.
She shows him the Queen of Diamonds and, brainwashed, he unknowingly kills
- her political rival, Senator Thomas Jordan.
- his daughter, Jocelyn (Shaw’s sweetheart and new wife, pictured right below).
Marco visits a grief stricken Shaw in a hotel room, where they play cards. This time the Queen of Diamonds
reverses the brainwashing.
- tells the truth about his murders.
- says that something important is going to happen at a political convention in Madison
Square Garden, New York.
He then receives a call from his mother telling him to go to her house. There, seated next to Jocelyn’s Queen of
Diamonds party costume (pictured right), she:
- admits to being a communist agent.
- tells him to kill the presidential candidate, Ben Arthur, at the convention (so that
her husband can become president).
Arthur is to be shot after he says “my life before my liberty”. But, at that
- breaks free from the brainwashing.
- instead kills his stepfather and mother (both standing next to Ben Arthur).
As Marco bursts in, Shaw
- explains he had to stop them.
- blows his brains out (wearing the Congressional Medal of Honour he won for bravery in the
Marco comments that he heroically saved his country by defeating
“an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul”.
Lessons for corporate culture and leadership
1. Minds can be
Using the conditioning techniques of Ivan
Pavlov (pictured right above), the Russian communists successfully
brainwash Shaw, who is forced to kill people including Jocelyn, the woman he loves
Corporate culture expert Professor Ed Schein, pictured
right (also from his experience in the Korean War) sees the value of brainwashing in business. He calls it
“coercive persuasion”, forcibly persuading employees to believe in business objectives like
2. Motivation is better than manipulation
Voluntarily wanting to do something (motivation) is shown to be
more effective than coercion.
Marco and Shaw both overcome their brainwashing through their desire to:
Shaw is particularly motivated to break free from his mother’s dominance.
3. Freedom of thought
Shaw’s brainwashing shows the:
- dangers of blindly following orders
- importance of thinking for yourself.
Marco says he was a hero, because he freed himself from his communist brainwashers.
The presidential candidate, Ben Arthur, says
“My life before my liberty”.
In other words, he is prepared to give up his life for other people's liberty.
By shooting his parents instead of Arthur, he shows he has:
- thrown off the power of his brainwashers.
4. Communication is
Shaw tells Jocelyn that the world is divided into:
- those liking communication (who turn TV’s off).
- uncommunicative people (who turn TV’s on).
5. Propaganda is
Shaw’s parents manipulate the media (particularly TV) to create paranoia about the threat of
They call communists anyone (including Thomas Jordan) they disagree with.
For a speech by her husband, Eleanor tells him there are 57 communists in the Defence Department, because he's
using Heinz tomato ketchup, whose brand motto is 57 varieties!
7. People are inspired by
Shaw’s parents, John and Eleanor Iselin, are filmed next to images of Abraham Lincoln (pictured right), contrasting their deception
and cruelty with Lincoln’s inspiring honesty and integrity.
8. Practise what you
Shaw’s anti-communist mother (Eleanor) is really a communist agent.
Key quote on brainwashing
His brain has not only been washed, as they say, it’s been dry-cleaned, Yen Lo, chief
Key quote on freedom
My life before my liberty, Ben Arthur
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)