Janet Leigh in Manchurian Candidate - Huh?

Just saw “Manchurian Candidate” on video over the weekend – great movie! – and the Janet Leigh character, Eugenie Rose Chaney, the love interest of Major Marko (Sinatra’s character), totally perplexed me.

At first I thought she was the Chinese brainwashing expert as seen through Marko’s conditioning. If she was what she claimed to be, what was the point of one of her first statements, “I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the tracks on this stretch.”?* If it’s a joke, I don’t get it, and I doubt it made any more sense in 1962. She had the same punning sense of humor as the brainwasher – the “railroad line” pun and the running George Washington/Washington DC joke in the taxi.

But for the rest of the picture, she was a straight-up love interest who didn’t participate at all in the action of the movie, and didn’t inhibit Marko in doing his job, which she would have if she were the brainwasher or the American “operator”.

Anyone have any ideas on this? Enlighten me, if you can. Or confuse me even more. :slight_smile:
*Even if “she” was the Chinese brainwashing expert, that can’t be true, because the railway they were on was clearly the Pennsylvania Railroad line from Washington to New York – what’s now the Northeast Corridor – and Chinese workers built the Western railways, not the Eastern lines.

If I was informed correctly, Leigh’s role was added in at the very last minute. After a first screening of the movie, the studio executives insisted that it just wouldn’t be a success (read: make a lot of money) unless there was a love interest for Frank Sinatra.

The writer, horrified at the idea of having to dilute his masterpiece in order to accomodate the greed of the execs, wrote the worst possible love scenes he could. All of the conversation between Sinatra and Leigh was non-sensical and non-sequitorish (“Are you a Muslim?” being one of my favorites). The writer’s hope was that the love scenes would be so bad that the execs would insist they be cut, but because the filming had run over-long (given the new scenes and old scenes to be re-filmed), the execs would just release it without the romance plot.

The execs did hate the romance plot, but decided even a stupid, non-sensical romance was better than none at all, and there wasn’t enough time left to write a better one, so the movie was released with all of the idiotic scenes intact.

That’s what I remember hearing; of course, that could just be urban legend and misinformation.


Give to Radiskull!

An obvious answer would be that she was the Love Interest. Even by 1962, the big Hollywood producers felt that Love Interest was important in every sort of movie, from comedy to horror to political suspense thriller. Plus the Eye Candy thing. Janet Leigh had some set of peaches.

But the character also appeared in the Richard Condon novel, unless my memory fails me. It’s been a few years, QUITE a few years, since I read it. Great book.

Does she represent Marco’s Redemption? He’s the ostensible hero, even though it’s Raymond Shaw who himself finally casts off the spell and kills Senator Iselin and his mother in the final scene. Marco, as a fellow POW, was involved in the whole deception, so for him to emerge as a real good guy, he needs to be Redeemed. Leigh’s an angel in disguise.


She also helps provide an interesting contrast between Frank’s character and Laurence Harvey’s. Both were in the camp together, and both had the love of a woman to sustain them. Frank survived, Laurence didn’t. That made Frank’s final scene all that more poignant (“there but for the grace of god” kind of thing).

John Corrado, if it’s true that Leigh’s character was added strictly at the studio’s behest, then Frankenheimer (the director) must have decided to make lemonade out of lemons by making her a red (pardon the pun) herring. I wouldn’t think that the director was trying to make a bad love scene on the train as much as an intentionally ambiguous one – odd but beautiful woman hitting on an odd but handsome man, or Communist “handler” picking up her “patient”?

It was hard-to beleive she-would give her fiances ring back after meeting Marko once &:he was sweating & couldnt look her in her.eyes -too good to be true without a catch to it -as-far as brainwashing -look at evangelicals today brainwashed by Trump & half the world brainwashed by social media

Welcome to the Straight Dope.

You have re-opened a thread that has reached its majority in any state (i.e. it’s 21 years old) so don’t be surprised if none of the original posters is still here to respond.

I always assumed that her oddly fast bonding with Marko was supposed to be a testament to his alleged sex appeal. And there was one thing he said on the train (I don’t remember what it was) where she immediately gave him her telephone number and told him to memorize it, that for some reason made it all make more sense to me. It would help if I could remember that scene better. Time to check for it on Youtube.

I wonder if some of Janet’s scenes were cut for time? It seems like she was there to steady and support Sinatra’s character. He was close to breaking down on the train.

Then he suddenly seems focused and ready to uncover the conspiracy.

We’ll never know for sure. Nearly everyone in that film is deceased except Henry Silva and Lansbury.

I was wrong, there wasn’t some one thing that he said, Just the flow of the rather unusual conversation.

No way to know for sure, but I think she started out as Marco’s “handler”, but the studio chickened out, and they left her a weird love interest.

Even if it was deliberately bad love scene dialog, there’s no way it could be taken as anything else than her being a ChiCom agent.

Having recently seen this (completely) on TCM the other night, I, too, was really puzzled by Leigh’s character and role in the film. It definitely looked like they cut a TON of scenes with Leigh and old Blue Eyes.
My first thought was that she was Marko’s (evil) handler. She pretty much throws herself at him (and he’s doing his best to ignore her). And when he calls her to pick him up from the police station, that seals the deal: she’s his for life ! But she never really does any “handler” like things - never does anything to snap him back to being hypnotized or whatever.
So then I thought: maybe she was “assigned” to him by the US government to keep an eye on him. Having established that Shaw could be triggered to go do whatever, it would make sense that they’d want to keep an eye on the others from that same company. But then that was never fleshed out either.

For such a well thought-through script, it now makes sense that her character was tacked in just…because. Kind of like the 4th Ghostbuster :wink:

That comes later - when he is programmed to assassinate MLK. Or RFK. Or Mary Jo Kopechne.

I had the same thought. No one really knows if Marco or the other soldiers have been programmed for future missions.

They all recited the heroic story that earned Shaw the Medal of Honor. Why stop there? I can’t imagine the Communists wasting an opportunity.

I’m pretty sure the scene of Rosie meeting Marco on the train in the book is just about as weird and off-putting as it is in the movie. I imagine the surreal-ish vibe is meant to reflect Marco’s fragile psychological state at the time. So the character wasn’t added at the last minute, nor was she ever supposed to be a handler, despite it seeming to be heavily implied. I’d like to read a contemporary review of the book or movie to see what a 50s/60s audience thought of that scene because I wonder if they would interpret it in the same way as a modern, ostensibly more sophisticated, audience.