THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962). John Frankenheimer's classic Cold War thriller has been re-released on DVD in anticipation of this week's remake, and it's frightening how this movie appears as if it's ripped from today's headlines. Right-wing zealots who will corrupt the process in order to win the Oval Office; a prominent Republican who's popular with half the populace even though he's an absolute moron ("Run along; the grownups need to talk," he's told at one point); a party that uses fear tactics to keep a nation on edge -- is it possible for the new version to be any more topical than this 42-year-old edition? Based on Richard Condon's novel, the film stars Frank Sinatra as a Korean War vet who, plagued by nightmares, begins to suspect that something's not quite right with a former member (Laurence Harvey) of his platoon, a decorated hero who's constantly having to contend with the political aspirations of his ruthless mother (Angela Lansbury) and her Senator husband (James Gregory). The movie rightly suggests that the political spectrum isn't a straight line on which fascism and Communism exist on opposite ends but rather a circle on which these two ideologies occupy the same space -- it's heady stuff in a nail-biting chiller that still has the power to make viewers perspire profusely. Lansbury earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the monstrous mom, yet she's matched by Harvey in a superb characterization as her aloof son, a tortured man whose humanity only truly emerges once he's turned into a political pawn. DVD extras include audio commentary by Frankenheimer, interviews with Frankenheimer, Sinatra and scripter George Axelrod, and a short piece featuring Lansbury.
PEOPLE I KNOW (2002). Completed in 2002, People I Know only played a half-dozen NYC/LA theaters in the spring of '03 before its present resurfacing on DVD -- and this shabby treatment despite the presence of two Oscar winners in its cast. Starting off like a B-version of Sweet Smell of Success before ending like a C-version of The Parallax View (whose poster can be spotted hanging in an office in one scene), this murky picture stars Al Pacino as Eli Wurman, a complete burn-out of a press agent. Even with only one client (Ryan O'Neal) to his name, Eli resists the advice of his down-to-earth sister-in-law (a wasted Kim Basinger) to leave New York behind; instead, he gets professionally involved with a neurotic actress (Tea Leoni) whose subsequent murder triggers a scandal that could affect many of the city's top kingpins. Pacino's fine performance and some pungent dialogue eventually get lost in a movie that's reasonably compelling as a character study but a complete washout as a political thriller. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Dan Algrant and deleted scenes.