The Manchurian Candidate – Synopsis


Act I

Scene one – “The Ladies Garden Club of Northern New Jersey”  Mrs. Lowe introduces five soldiers, Ben Marco, Ed Mavole, Bobby Lembeck, Andrew Hanley and Raymond Shaw to her “garden club.” From the start, it is clear all is not as it should be. In fact, we are inside the brainwashed minds of the soldiers, who believe they are attending a ladies luncheon when in reality they are being displayed before a group of Communist officials. Mrs. Lowe (really Dr. Yen Lo) spotlights Raymond as the perfect assassin, one who can kill without computation or memory of the incident. In a demonstration to the Russian and Chinese audience, Raymond plays solitaire – when he uncovers the Queen of Diamonds, his mind is receptive to commands. Lowe suggests Raymond strangle Ed Mavole, the most popular member of their platoon, and he performs the terrible deed without hesitation. Next, under the same directive, he shoots Bobby Lembeck. The Communists are pleased. Marco is told to recommend Shaw for the Medal of Honor for being “a true American hero.”

Scene two – the tarmac of Idewild Airport  Raymond greets his mother, Eleanor Iselin, with contempt. She has arranged a photo opportunity to praise her son’s courage, but also to advance the career of her husband and Raymond’s stepfather, Senator Johnny Iselin. Raymond angrily denounces both as frauds, and discloses that he has accepted a position at a New York newspaper, the Daily Press, hoping to distance himself from them both.

Scene three – darkness  A McCarthy-esque television speech made by Johnny Iselin morphs into a recap of the garden club meeting. Night after night Captain Marco has had the same recurring dream depicting the deaths of Mavole and Lembeck.

Scene four – the Army offices   Marco discusses his dream with General Tracy. His superior officer dismisses it as battle fatigue and assigns him to less demanding work as a press representative.

Scene five – a press conference  Johnny Iselin interrupts the Defense Department’s budgetary press conference, brazenly waving a list of 207 Communists working inside the organization. Claiming this house cleaning is the responsibility of the Senate, he rushes out of the room as flashbulbs go off and television cameras roll. Marco tells the Secretary of Defense that he will manage the problem.

Scene six – the office of the Daily Press  Raymond’s boss, Holborn Gaines, comments on Johnny’s spectacle and promises to stop him. He is about to have lunch with Senator Thomas Jordan, one of Johnny’s most formidable opponents. Raymond admits he once knew the senator’s daughter, Jocelyn.

Scene seven – a bucolic setting on Long Island  Raymond recalls the summer he met “Jocie” when she saved him from a snakebite. He learns that her father became the sworn enemy of his mother after she lost $60,000 in a defamation of character lawsuit, money which he gave to the ACLU. Raymond agrees with Senator Jordan’s characterization of Eleanor.

Now in love, Raymond suggests that he and Jocie run away together. Ever belligerent, Eleanor puts an end to the relationship.

Scene eight – a train car  Captain Marco makes small talk with an attractive, yet mysterious, Rosie Chayney. They agree to meet at her apartment in New York.

Scene nine – outside Raymond’s apartment  Marco emerges from the shadows and pulls Raymond aside, describing the strange dreams with the gun and the scarf. Not really wanting to discuss it further, Raymond admits he has received a letter from Corporal Hanley admitting exactly the same thing. Marco gives Raymond Rosie’s phone number, where he will be staying while in New York, in case Raymond wishes to discuss it further. As Marco leaves, Raymond’s telephone rings. He answers and then pulls out a deck of playing cards.

Scene ten – the bedroom of Holborn Gaines  Early in the morning, Raymond shoots and kills his boss Holborn Gaines.

Scene eleven – the Iselin’s home  Eleanor comments on the headlines reporting Gaines’ murder while Johnny rehearses a speech. She has decided to throw a costume party ostensibly to celebrate the return of Jocelyn Jordan, whose father’s favor she now hopes to garner to enhance their political position.

Scene twelve – the Army offices  In response to Marco’s query about Corporal Hanley, General Tracy shows him some photographs. Just like Hanley, Marco recognizes Dr. Lo Yen and Berezovo, two people of interest to international security.

Scene thirteen – the Iselin’s home  At the costume party, Raymond asks after Jocie. Eleanor proposes that he play solitaire until she appears. When the Queen of Diamonds is played, Eleanor (now clearly an agent for the Communists) begins to coach him for another murder, but is interrupted by Johnny, who announces Senator Jordan’s arrival. While Eleanor solicits Jordan’s support in another room, Jocie arrives, attired in a Queen of Diamonds costume. Completely under her spell, Raymond agrees to run away with her. Meanwhile, Jordan repulses Eleanor and declares that he will do everything possible to derail Johnny’s bid for the vice presidential nomination. Returning to the study, Eleanor is furious to discover Raymond has left with Jocie.

 

Act II

Scene one – Raymond’s apartment  Recently married, Raymond and Jocie revel in their mutual adoration. Marco drops by, learns the happy news, then insists that he speak to Raymond. Now alone, Jocie answers the ringing telephone, but no one is at the other end.

Scene two – a bar  Marco reveals to Raymond that his Medal of Honor is based on a lie, and that the young sergeant killed both Mavole and Lembeck. Raymond doesn’t remember any of it, and Marco explains that he has been programmed to become a killing machine. Meanwhile, a bartender relays some domestic details to another customer. When she says “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little game of solitaire,” Raymond instinctively asks for a deck of cards. At the moment the Queen of Diamonds is displayed, an absurd suggestion is made, and to Marco’s astonishment, Raymond dutifully performs the task. Marco begins to decode the master plan.

Scene three – Raymond’s apartment/Rosie’s apartment  Both Raymond and Rosie watch the political convention on their respective televisions. Raymond receives a phone call and begins to play solitaire while Rosie and Marco share a tender moment, agreeing to marry. Marco suddenly realizes that the Queen of Diamonds is the trigger card.

At the Jordan’s home, Jocie announces her marriage to her father. Raymond slips into the apartment unnoticed. He shoots Jordan and then Jocie.

Scene four – Raymond’s apartment  Raymond is under Eleanor’s spell. She commands him to assassinate the presidential nominee at the convention to clear the way for her husband’s succession. After she leaves, Marco arrives, determined to deprogram Raymond. Using the playing cards, he intends to learn Raymond’s most recent mission.

Scene five – a small office near the convention floor  Marco relays what he has learned to the security agents. Rosie arrives unexpectedly, and in spite of his concern for her safety, refuses to leave.

Scene six – the convention floor  The presidential nominee, his wife and children and the Iselins sit on the platform. While the nominee makes his opening remarks, Eleanor privately savors her accomplishments. A shot rings out and Eleanor falls dead. Another shot takes out Johnny. A third shot rings out as chaos ensues. Marco confesses to Rosie his reprogramming of Raymond’s mind, even if it cost him his own life.