New York — One of the best movies of 1988 is a film from 1962 - ``The Manchurian Candidate'' - brought back simply to build interest in its long-awaited video release. It's pretty exotic, all right: filmed in black and white and featuring people like Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury looking awfully young. In all the important ways, though, the movie is as fresh and exciting as anything this decade has to offer.
``The Manchurian Candidate'' begins like a standard war movie, with American soldiers in Korea slogging through a dangerous mission, but it soon takes a number of unexpected turns. These begin right after the credits, when one of the main characters (played by Mr. Sinatra) has a very weird dream.
He and some other Army men are surrounded by middle-aged ladies listening to a lecture on flowers. Only sometimes the ladies seem to be enemy soldiers, and the lecturer keeps turning into a sinister scientist of some kind - talking about how he's brainwashed some of the American soldiers into thinking they're safe and sound, when really they're in his clutches. He has also brainwashed one of them (played by Laurence Harvey) into becoming a programmed killer, when triggered by secret words.
Soon the Harvey character, whose stepfather is a US senator and whose mother (Miss Lansbury) is a powerful wheeler-dealer in Washington, is back in the USA, not realizing he's a potential assassin. At any moment the brainwashers could put their human secret weapon into action - unless Sinatra solves the secret of his ominous dream.
Director John Frankenheimer does a clever job of developing the story's possibilities. The killer's stepfather, for example, is no ordinary senator: He's a hilarious - and scary - replica of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The film also paints an unusually complex portrait of the brainwashed character, allowing us to hate and pity him at the same time. The performances are superb.
``The Manchurian Candidate'' gets my vote as one of the most powerful entertainments of the year, 1962 or 1988.