There was no way that the much-anticipated new release of the very free major-star remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" would happen next Friday without the simultaneous release of all attending source material, cinematic and literary.
And, sure enough, MGM has come out with a brand, spanking new DVD edition of John Frankenheimer's paranoid 1962 classic film.
Pauline Kael's shorthand description covers it nicely: "a daring, funny, and far-out thriller about political extremists. . . . This picture plays some wonderful crazy games about the Right and the Left; although it's a thriller, it may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made in Hollywood."
In the satiric sweepstakes of American movies, Barry Levinson's and David Mamet's "Wag the Dog" gives it a run for its money, but combined so bizarrely with a thriller, Kael's judgment stands nicely.
The new paperback edition of Richard Condon's 1959 novel comes from Four Walls/Eight Windows Press (311 pages, $13.95) with an introduction by Louis Menand, who remembers, conspicuously, that Time magazine once named it "One of the Ten Best Bad Books -- which, from a publisher's point of view, is far from the worst thing that might be said about a novel.
Menand's thumbnail description of the author: "A cynic of the upbeat type, not unlike Tom Wolfe. His belief that everything is basically s--- did not get in the way of his pleasure in making fun of it. He learned that attitude in the finest school for it on earth, Hollywood. Before he was a novelist, Condon was a movie publicist. He began, in 1936, at Walt Disney Productions, where he promoted 'Fantasia' and 'Dumbo,' among other animated masterpieces, and finished up at United Artists, which he left in 1958. 'The only thing I know how to do is spell' he told his wife, so he did the logical thing and became a writer."
In Condon's novel, the right-wing vice presidential candidate is the instrument of the intricate communist plot to take over the American presidency. He is Sen. John Yerkes Iselin, a drunken, buffooning former governor who is described in the book this way:
"A formidable administrator; a conserver who could dare; an honest, courageous, conscience-thrilled, God-fearing public servant; a jolly, jovial, generous, gentling, humorous, amiable, good-natured, witty big brother; a wow of a husband and a true-blue pal of a father; a fussin', fumin', fightin' soldier boy, all heart; a simple country judge with the savvy of Solomon; and an American, which was the most fortuitous circumstance of all."
As badly as he could overwrite ("what is the consciousness of guilt but the arena floor rushing up to meet the falling trapeze artist?"), Condon did know a thing or two about American political types, no matter what the century.