Politics & Policy

Axelrod, by George!

Why don't we pass the time with a game of solitaire?

‘I’ve been having this nightmare. A real swinger of a nightmare, too.”

As is well known, we out here in Hollywood wake up each morning believing in nothing more passionately than Barack Hussein Obama II.  We believe in the wisdom of his ways, the rightness of his cause, and in the complete veracity of everything we have been told about his background, his birthplace, his parents’ marital status at the time of his birth, his real name, his religion, the sources of his financial support from Indonesia to Punahou to Occidental to Columbia to Harvard to Chicago to Springfield to Washington, and his true intentions for the United States of America. After all he is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being we’ve ever known in our lives.

#ad#You clever movie-buff johnnies out there will notice that I just snuck in a reference to George Axelrod’s screenplay for the first version of The Manchurian Candidate, which unaccountably was left off the list of 25 classic American movies that the Dear Leader and Teacher BO2 gave recently to the British prime minister, in addition to a plastic helicopter and the back of his hand. Good films all, but it’s beyond me how the president’s crack protocol staff could omit John Frankenheimer’s classic 1962 thriller about a charismatic but malleable hero who, through sinister Communist mind-control techniques, becomes the object of a worshipful cult and putty in the hands of a malevolent female who uses him to attempt a hidden coup d’etat by elevating her useless albeit grandiloquent husband to the top of the ticket.

I keep telling you not to think! You’re very, very good at a great many things, but thinking, hon, just simply isn’t one of them.

There’s been a lot of tea-leaf reading about the movies that BHO II gave to that blind dude from Little England, but the real issue was why everybody’s favorite all-American paranoid fantasy got passed over in favor of stuff like The Wizard of Oz and The Grapes of Wrath. Okay, so maybe those two aren’t so strange. Sagas of hapless Americans experiencing drastic economic dislocation and a fairy tale about a naïve innocent who’s told to pay no attention to the man behind the teleprompter — er, the curtain — do have a certain contemporary resonance.  But what dummy left the Laurence Harvey/Frank Sinatra/Angela Lansbury experiment in terror off the must-see list?

His brain has not only been washed, as they say. It has been dry-cleaned.

The original Manchurian Candidate — don’t waste your time with the remake, even though Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep are both great — tells the story of a Korean War veteran named Sgt. Raymond Shaw (played by Harvey at his tight-lipped best) who returns from combat to get the Medal of Honor. So far, so John Kerry, the man whose per-minute-of-service-in-Vietnam medal count puts Audie Murphy and Sergeant York to shame. In reality, though, Shaw and other members of a platoon commanded by Capt. Bennett Marco (Sinatra) were captured and brainwashed in Manchuria by sneering Soviets and sinister Chinese from the Pavlov Institute in Moscow. Although the men cordially despise Shaw — “he’s not hard to like, he’s impossible to like” blurts Sinatra — they, dry-cleaned to a man, nevertheless speak highly of him: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being we’ve ever known in our lives.

Shaw is turned into a murderous robot whose lethality is triggered by a suggestion that he play a game of solitaire: When the Queen of Diamonds comes up, Shaw carries out the next order he’s given, whether it’s to murder somebody or just go jump in the lake.

It’s the most rousing speech I’ve ever read. It’s been worked on here and in Russia, on and off, for over eight years.

As luck would have it, Shaw’s stepfather is a bloviating McCarthyite U.S. senator named Iselin, steered by his scheming wife (Lansbury) onto the bottom half of their party’s (presumably Republican) national ticket. And, as further luck would have it, Shaw’s American control agent is none other than Mommy Dearest herself, a secret Soviet useful idiot. Bristling with barely disguised Oedipal lust, she activates her sharp-shooting sonny boy to pull the trigger on the presidential candidate during his convention acceptance speech, but Sinatra has broken Shaw’s trance; in the end, Shaw turns the tables on his tormentors and himself.

In other words, it’s the story of a man with no real friends, manipulated by a woman with far greater willpower and moxie than his own, who in the hands of sinister Communists becomes the unwitting agent of a foreign power bent on destroying the United States and delivering the country to her enemies. You can’t make this stuff up!

It’s too bad, as my father, the sainted “Che” Kahane, likes to point out, that Axelrod felt compelled to make the heroic progressives of international Marxism-Leninism the “bad guys.” And it’s a truly tragic moment when Mama Iselin tells Raymond that she had no idea her Soviet comrades were going to turn her only beloved son into a zombie: “But now we have come almost to the end. One last step. And then, when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.” (It’s totally coincidental that Streep, playing the Monster Mom in the remake, channeled her inner Hillary Clinton.)

Yak dung! Hope tastes good — like a cigarette should!

But hey, we movie people have always had our finger on the pulse of the nation. In fact, there’s another project floating around right now, one that features populist hordes, punitive taxation, the discouragement of productivity, a massive infrastructure breakdown, and the crippling fear of petty tyrants in Washington. Add to that oceans of new debt, an inflationary tidal wave, the destruction of private philanthropy, show trials for the enemies of the people — excuse me, I mean “captains of industry” — well deserved (“if “unconstitutional”) bills of attainder, morally preening negotiations with hostile regimes, altruistic open-border immigration “reform,” and long-needed universal health-care and, why, the next thing you know, people will be reading Atlas Shrugged again. And taking it seriously.

Luckily, we artistic types always have our standard disclaimer: Any resemblance to any person, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Enjoy the show!

– Even though he finds the book morally reprehensible, David Kahane is angling for the Atlas Shrugged rewrite. Not for the money, but because he’s really, really interested in principles of modern banking and the history of piracy, paintings of Orozco, modern French theatre, the jurisprudential factors of mafia administration, diseases of horses, novels of Joyce Cary, and ethnic choices of the Arabs — things like that. You can add to his reading list at kahanenro@gmail.com.

David Kahane — Since February 2007, Michael Walsh has written for National Review both under his own name and the name of David Kahane, a fictional persona described as “a Hollywood liberal who ...

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