DiscoverLaw on FilmThe Rack (1956) & The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (Guest: Lisa Hajjar) (episode 13)
The Rack (1956) & The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (Guest: Lisa Hajjar) (episode 13)

The Rack (1956) & The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (Guest: Lisa Hajjar) (episode 13)

Update: 2023-10-24


The Rack (1956), directed by Arnold Laven and written by Rod Serling (originally for television) tells the story of a decorated war hero Captain Edward W. Hall, Jr. (played by Paul Newman), who returns home after being captured and held prisoner in the Korean War. While a POW, Hall was subjected to mental torture and collaborated with his captors. Hall is court-martialed; his attorney (Lt Col. Frank Wasnick, played by Edmond O’Brien) tries to justify his conduct by showing the pressure he was under. Hall, however, is found guilty because he concedes could have resisted more, as soldiers who experienced physical torture did. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), was directed and produced by John Frankenheimer from a screenplay by George Axelrod, based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel. The film centers on a decorated soldier, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (played by Laurence Harvey) who was captured during the Korean War. During captivity, Shaw and other members of his army platoon, including Maj. Bennett Marco (played by Frank Sinatra) were psychologically manipulated or “brainwashed” by their Chinese Communist captors. Shaw was programmed to serve as a sleeper agent and a pawn in a communist plot to take over the U.S. and impose martial law by exploiting a wave of anti-communist hysteria. The twist is that his handler in the U.S. is none other than his mother, Eleanor Shaw (played by Angela Lansbury), who schemes to have her alcoholic and McCarthyite husband, Sen. John Iselin (played by James Gregory) become Vice President and then President, courtesy of a well-timed assassination by Raymond (acting under her spell).  Our guest is Lisa Hajjar, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


0:00      Introduction
5:12      Two films about the Korean War
7:23      Psychological manipulation of POWs
10:59   Mental torture and the new duress
15:36   A soldier’s breaking point
21:41   The U.S. Army’s distorted view of torture as limited to physical pain
25:35   The SERE and MK-Ultra programs
28:24   The mind as a Cold War battlefield
36:38   A satire of America’s Cold War fears of communist domination
39:01   Hyper-patriotism is the perfect foil for treason
44:17   The remake of The Manchurian Candidate
47:10   Conspiracy theories
48:40   Psychological torture resurfaces after 9/11

Further reading:

Dougherty, Sara Harrison, “Early Cold War Combat Films and the Religion of Empire.” (PhD dissertation, Dep’ of History, Univ. of Rochester, 2012)

Hafetz, Ben, “The Glitz and Glam of Ideology: How the CIA and Department of Defense Use Hollywood Blockbusters as a Way of Propagating the Ideology of the American War Machine,” (B.A. thesis 2019)

Hajjar, Lisa, “From The Manchurian Candidate to Zero Dark Thirty: Reading the CIA’s History of Torture through Hollywood Thrillers,” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal, v. 47, no. 2 (Winter 2017), 41-54

Seed, David, Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind Control: A Study of Novels and Film (Kent State Univ. Press 2004)

Law on Film is created and produced by Jonathan Hafetz. Jonathan is a professor at Seton Hall Law School. He has written many books and articles about the law. He has litigated important cases to protect civil liberties and human rights while working at the ACLU and other organizations. Jonathan is a huge film buff and has been watching, studying, and talking about movies for as long as he can remember.
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The Rack (1956) & The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (Guest: Lisa Hajjar) (episode 13)

The Rack (1956) & The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (Guest: Lisa Hajjar) (episode 13)

Jonathan Hafetz