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The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and LeadershipThe Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership


The Manchurian Candidate (1962)


Famous for...

  • Its emphasis on brainwashing which Americans were afraid might be used by Russian and Chinese communists against them (the film was released in America on October 24, 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis over Russian missiles in Cuba).
  • The first karate fight ever on film . The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership
  • Reviving the career of Angela Lansbury, star of TV's Murder, She Wrote.
  • Its 2004 re-make starring Denzil Washington (as Marco, pictured right) and Meryl Streep (Shaw’s mother, pictured right below) in which the brainwashers are not communists but a global corporation.

 The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Set in...

Early 1950’s America (when it was fighting communist North Korea, supported by China and Russia, in the Korean War).


Based on...The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

American Richard Condon’s (pictured right) 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate.



John Frankenheimer (pictured right below).The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership



None but Angela Lansbury got a nomination for best supporting actress.


Key charactersThe Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), American war hero.

Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), his mother (pictured right).

Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), his army boss.

Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh), chief communist brainwasher.


The story

Sergeant Raymond Shaw (pictured right) returns home from the Korean War, a hero after being The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadershipkidnapped and brainwashed by the Russian communists in Manchuria, China, with his patrol (including his chief, Captain Bennett Marco).

The chief brainwasher is a Korean doctor, Yen Lo, who uses a Queen of Diamonds playing card as the trigger for Shaw to obey his orders (that included killing two of his patrol).

Shaw hates his strongly anti-communist parents. His power crazy mother, Eleanor, controls his stepfather, John Iselin, a senator and vice presidential candidate.

Shaw shocks them by deciding to work for a principled (and they think communist) New York publisher, Holborn Gaines. Yen Lo (pictured right below) orders Shaw to kill him to test the effectiveness of his The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadershipbrainwashing.

Marco is now working for Army Intelligence. Like another patrol member, he has been brainwashed to:

  • think Shaw is a great guy.
  • forget Shaw has killed two of their comrades.

They recall these murders in a recurring nightmare

Marco:The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

  • goes to New York to find out the truth.
  • on the train befriends an attractive lady, Rosie Chaney (pictured right).

Chunjin, (sent by Yen Lo) is hired by Shaw as his valet. When Marco sees him answering Shaw’s door, he recognizes him as the man who led his patrol into an ambush. He punches him, leading to the first karate fight on film.

Marco is taken to the nearest police station, but Rosie manages to secure his release. He:

  • goes to Washington.
  • manages to persuade his bosses in Army Intelligence to lead a joint CIA and FBI investigation into Shaw and his activities.

As Marco joins him in a bar, Shaw is playing cards and turns over the Queen of Diamonds that again triggers off his brainwashing.

Shaw jumps into the lake in Central Park (after hearing the bartender tell someone else to do it), but Marco pulls him out of the freezing cold water. Shaw doesn’t remember anything.The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

With the help of a psychiatrist, Marco (pictured right) works out the power of the Queen of Diamonds because of its likeness to Shaw’s manipulative mother.

She shows him the Queen of Diamonds and, brainwashed, he unknowingly kills

  • her political rival, Senator Thomas Jordan.
  • his daughter, Jocelyn (Shaw’s sweetheart and new wife, pictured right below). The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Marco visits a grief stricken Shaw in a hotel room, where they play cards. This time the Queen of Diamonds reverses the brainwashing.


  • tells the truth about his murders.
  • says that something important is going to happen at a political convention in Madison Square Garden, New York.

He then receives a call from his mother telling him to go to her house. There, seated next to Jocelyn’s Queen of Diamonds party costume (pictured right), she:The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

  • admits to being a communist agent.
  • tells him to kill the presidential candidate, Ben Arthur, at the convention (so that her husband can become president).

Arthur is to be shot after he says “my life before my liberty”. But, at that moment, Shaw:

  • breaks free from the brainwashing.
  • instead kills his stepfather and mother (both standing next to Ben Arthur).

As Marco bursts in, Shaw

  • explains he had to stop them.
  • blows his brains out (wearing the Congressional Medal of Honour he won for bravery in the Korean War).

Marco comments that he heroically saved his country by defeating

“an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul”.

 The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Lessons for corporate culture and leadership

1. Minds can be manipulated

Using the conditioning techniques of Ivan Pavlov (pictured right above), the Russian communists successfully brainwash Shaw, who is forced to kill people including Jocelyn, the woman he lovesThe Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Corporate culture expert Professor Ed Schein, pictured right (also from his experience in the Korean War) sees the value of brainwashing in business. He calls it “coercive persuasion”, forcibly persuading employees to believe in business objectives like customer satisfaction.


2. Motivation is better than manipulationThe Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Voluntarily wanting to do something (motivation) is shown to be more effective than coercion.

Marco and Shaw both overcome their brainwashing through their desire to:

  • find the truth.
  • do what’s right.

Shaw is particularly motivated to break free from his mother’s dominance.


3. Freedom of thought matters

Shaw’s brainwashing shows the:

  • dangers of blindly following orders
  • importance of thinking for yourself. The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

Marco says he was a hero, because he freed himself from his communist brainwashers.

The presidential candidate, Ben Arthur, says

“My life before my liberty”.

In other words, he is prepared to give up his life for other people's liberty.

By shooting his parents instead of Arthur, he shows he has:

  • re-asserted his liberty.
  • thrown off the power of his brainwashers.

 The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

4. Communication is crucial

Shaw tells Jocelyn that the world is divided into:

  • those liking communication (who turn TV’s off).
  • uncommunicative people (who turn TV’s on).


5. Propaganda is powerful

Shaw’s parents manipulate the media (particularly TV) to create paranoia about the threat of communists.

They call communists anyone (including Thomas Jordan) they disagree with.

For a speech by her husband, Eleanor tells him there are 57 communists in the Defence Department, because he's using Heinz tomato ketchup, whose brand motto is 57 varieties!

 The Manchurian Candidate - Corporate Culture and Leadership

 7. People are inspired by moral leaders

Shaw’s parents, John and Eleanor Iselin, are filmed next to images of Abraham Lincoln (pictured right), contrasting their deception and cruelty with Lincoln’s inspiring honesty and integrity.


8. Practise what you preach

Shaw’s anti-communist mother (Eleanor) is really a communist agent.



Key quote on brainwashing

His brain has not only been washed, as they say, it’s been dry-cleaned, Yen Lo, chief brainwasher.


Key quote on freedom

My life before my liberty, Ben Arthur 


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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