"The Manchurian Candidate" has history's strangest movie talk


Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh meet as strangers on a train in "The Manchurian Candidate" for what Rod Serling would have called "a journey into a wondrous land of imagination."


Peter Howell

Movie Critic


Oct. 24 marks the 60th anniversary of John Frankenheimer's thriller "The Manchurian Candidate," one of the most paranoid films ever released by a Hollywood studio. Arriving in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the plot further stoked Cold War tensions: American soldiers, POWs during the Korean War, are captured and brainwashed by Chinese and Russian forces. They're sent home to unwittingly set in motion the assassination of a presidential nominee and the overthrow of the U.S. government.


Frank Sinatra played one of the soldiers, Maj. Bennett "Ben" Marco, who is haunted by recurring nightmares that seem all too real. Most of the film's many secrets are revealed, but one of them has remained mysterious for six decades: the meaning of the bizarre train dialogue between Marco and Eugenie Rose "Rosie" Cheyney, a fellow passenger. She becomes fascinated with a distracted and sweating Marco as he struggles with a cigarette and his tortured thoughts.


Played by the great Janet Leigh, Rosie brings glamour and romance to the film. But her conversation with Marco as she lights a cigarette for him, while the northeastern landscape shoots past, could be straight out of "The Twilight Zone":


Rosie:

Maryland's a beautiful state.


Marco:

This is Delaware.


Rosie:

I know. I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the track on this stretch. But nonetheless, Maryland is a beautiful state. So is Ohio, for that matter.


Marco:

I guess so. Columbus is a tremendous football town. You in the railroad business?


Rosie:

Not anymore. However, if you will permit me to point out, when you ask that question you really should say, "Are you in the railroad line?" Where's your home?


Marco:

I'm in the Army. I'm a major. I've been in the Army most of my life. We move a good deal. I was born in New Hampshire.


By this point, Marco is getting interested in his friendly inquisitor, whom he's been largely ignoring until now:


Marco:

What's your name?


Rosie:

Eugenie.


Marco:

Pardon?


Rosie:

No kidding, I really mean it. Crazy French pronunciation and all.


Marco:

It's pretty.


Rosie:

Well, thank you.


Marco:

I guess your friends call you Jenny.


Rosie:

Not yet they haven't, for which I am deeply grateful. But you may call me Jenny.


Marco:

What do your friends call you?


Rosie:

Rosie.


Marco:

Why?


Rosie:

My full name is Eugenie Rose. Of the two names, I've always favoured Rosie because it smells of brown soap and beer. Eugenie is somehow more fragile.


Marco:

Still, when I asked you what your name was, you said it was Eugenie.


Rosie:

It's quite possible I was feeling more or less fragile at that instant.


Marco:

I could never figure out what that phrase meant: more or less. You Arabic?


Rosie:

No.


Many have speculated that Rosie is in on the conspiracy plot, or possibly trying to stop it, and she's testing Marco with lines that might reveal his brainwashing. The problem with this theory is Rosie doesn't figure into the "Manchurian" mechanics at any point in the movie. She operates independently of the main narrative, travelling with Marco on what "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling would call "a journey into a wondrous land of imagination."


You can see the full scene on YouTube and the film is all the better for it. Not every mystery needs to be solved. 🌓


Twitter: @peterhowellfilm






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