While many cast members did an outstanding job in this disturbing and often violent political thriller, it is Angela Lansbury who stands out in her superb portrayal of a woman who not only dominates her son and husband but who wants to take over the entire country, if not the world! In the end, this is Angela's triumph, and I don't understand why she took second billing behind any of the other actors.
As much as I love Janet Leigh, she was handed a bizarre and somewhat minor role here which I believe only served as a deliberate distraction in that she never influenced Major Marco (Sinatra) as an agent working on either side. And don't get sidetracked by the fact that "Pinocchio" was playing at the Manhattan movie theater that she and Major Marco passed in the cab because that was probably a deliberate "red herring" too. Granted that Leigh and Tony Curtis, including their sensational divorce, were quite the rage at the time, but Angela deserved top billing here.
When I read that Lansbury has only appeared in 54 full length movies to date, it seemed like a number too small only because she leaves such a strong impression in so many of her performances dating back to Nancy, the maid, in "Gaslight" and Sybil in "The Picture of Dorian Grey". To this day, I am haunted by the memory of poor Sybil singing "Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird" in the latter. Lansbury masters a wide range of effective acting from the kindly, unassuming Miss Marple to the powerful, detestable Eleanor Shaw Iselin here.
In addition to a towering Lansbury, the excellent portrayals by Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, John McIver, Henry Silva, and James Gregory as the annoying buffoon of a step-father contribute to the success of this political thriller. I think that director John Frankenheimer and screenplay writer George Axelrod should be commended for staying close to Richard Condon's original novel, and the stark black and white photography enhanced the gloomy and ominous atmosphere. The filming of the three separate interpretations of the brainwashing sequence alone was a unique and unforgettable cinematic experience.
What a dish like Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish) ever saw in Raymond Shaw is beyond me, and we have surely witnessed Harvey as the dark, brooding character before ("Room at the Top", "Butterfield Eight", etc.), but who else could play this morose character more accurately?
As to that newspaper headline "Violent Hurricane Sweeps Midwest", did you folks in the Midwest ever experience a direct hurricane? I know about the tornadoes and the floods, but a direct hurricane? Was that another subtle attempt at humor by the director? Anyway, I'll never look at another hydrangea without much trepidation and dread.