MGM, B&W, PG-13, 126 min. plus supplements, Dolby Digital 5.1, widescreen, Street: July 13, First Run: W, Oct. 1962, $4.1 mil.
While this masterful 1962 Cold War thriller was in preproduction, there was some speculation that the White House would object to the harsh depiction of the Communist characters. Frank Sinatra recounts in a 1988 interview included on this fine special edition that all such speculation went by the wayside when he informed President Kennedy that he would star in an adaptation of Richard Condon’s fiercely suspenseful and wryly comic novel. “Great,” responded the thriller-reading President, “but who’s going to play the mother?” There’s no notation on the disc whether or not JFK enjoyed Angela Lansbury’s splendid performance as Laurence Harvey’s thoroughly wicked mother, but we do hear from the “Queen of Diamonds” herself here, as well as a number of other participants (except, strangely, Janet Leigh). The disc includes the audio commentary that recently deceased producer-director John Frankenheimer recorded for the original DVD release of the film. He supplies technical details that will mostly interest film students (the length of lenses used, how location shooting and process shots were intermingled, etc.). Frankenheimer fan William Friedkin gushes about the film in Michael M. Arick’s featurette “A Little Solitaire,” addressing some important themes that Frankenheimer seemed to shy away from in his commentary, including the film’s severe black humor and the shocking way its conclusion seemed to prefigure the Kennedy assassination. Lansbury is quite eloquent in another Arick featurette, discussing how her distaste for playing villainesses didn’t stop her from playing the cold-blooded mother, and the very adult notion that her character and Harvey’s had an incestuous bond. The most entertaining supplement (also featured on the original DVD) is the 1988 chat, produced for MGM, between Sinatra, Frankenheimer and scripter-producer George Axelrod. The Special Edition disc is being released to coincide with Jonathan Demme’s updated and seemingly pointless remake. The fact that the film did well in its 1988 theatrical re-release and that it features a strong Kennedy connection and arguably Sinatra’s best performance should be kept in mind by retailers looking to acquire “evergreen” vintage titles that are regularly rediscovered by new generations of viewers. —Ed Grant