Anyone who grew up with Lansbury as the warm granny of “Beauty and the Beast” or “Murder, She Wrote” will be shocked at how good she could star in something like “The Manchurian Candidate.” She’s positively scary as Eleanor Shaw Iselin, the wife of a cold-blooded senator who will stop at nothing to ascend to the White House, even if it means manipulating her brainwashed son, Raymond (Laurence Harvey).
Directed by John Frankenheimer, it centers on Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw (Harvey), who returns home from a POW camp a decorated hero. But his friend and fellow soldier, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), suspects something is wrong. It turns out that Raymond has been brainwashed by the Communists into becoming an unconscious assassin, triggered to enter a hypnotic state and kill whenever he plays a game of solitaire.
Lansbury steals the show as Raymond’s incestuous and controlling mother, who guides her son to assassinate a political candidate so that her husband – incompetent and pompous Senator John Iselin (James Gregory) – can run for president. It was a gallant performance that earned Lansbury her third Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, as well as Golden Globe and National Board of Review wins. You’d have to assume Oscar voters were brainwashed into not giving her a win for her career best work (she lost to Patty Duke playing Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker”).