Centered around an elaborate brainwashing scheme concocted by a group of Chinese communists, The Manchurian Candidate is a dark political thriller filled with brooding characters and spooky photography. Even sixty years later, it’s a film that remains acutely relevant. The film stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and an insidiously diabolical Angela Lansbury who sadly passed away earlier this month at age 96. Strangely enough, one of my favorite character actors of the 20th Century, Henry Silva, who plays a Korean agent in this film, passed away at 95 just four weeks before Lansbury.
While most of the story for Manchurian Candidate takes place in New York, due to a limited budget, production only had one week to do all of its on-location photography there. But director John Frankenheimer still managed to capture a few nice spots in the Big Apple, including the former Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue shortly before it moved to its present location and the building was demolished.
Almost every location from this film was already identified when I began researching it a couple years ago. Several movie websites already listed Shaw’s apartment to be at 67 Riverside Drive, including onthesetofnewyork and themoviedistrict, so it’s hard to know who did the original research to find it. I did notice that on a 2004 DVD commentary track, director John Frankenheimer mentioned that they shot the apartment exteriors on Riverside Drive, so it probably wouldn’t have been too hard to find the specific address after that.
Described as bright and frilly by architecture aficionados, 67 Riverside Drive, nicknamed “The Riverdale,” might have seemed like an odd location choice for such a dark and somber movie. But there was something eerily isolating about the remote Riverside neighborhood which seemed to fit well with gloomy NYC movies during this era. The neighborhood was used to the same effect in the 1959 noir, Odds Against Tomorrow.
By the 1970s, several films began depicting the neighborhood as a besieged landscape of crime, such as 1974’s Death Wish and the 1979 dystopian thriller, The Warriors. Of course today, like almost every other neighborhood in Manhattan, it’s a highly sought after place to live.
In The Manchurian Candidate, the set built for Shaw’s apartment was specifically designed to be dark and moody, — quite the opposite of what the units were like in the real co-op building, which were originally limited to two per floor, each consisting of ten rooms.
Frankenheimer said his memory of New York apartments during that time was that they always needed extra light in them, even in the daytime. And if you watch the film, you’ll notice Shaw does in fact switch on several lights when he enters his place, even though it’s in the middle of the afternoon,
Taxi Cab Ride
This was the only New York location that, as far as I could tell, hadn’t been identified by anyone else. When I first started researching the scene, I assumed it was shot in the Times Square area because of the two movie theater marquees right next to each other — something that was typical for that area. But of course, back in the 1960s, there were numerous spots throughout the city that had small concentrations of movie theaters, so the scene could’ve taken place almost anywhere.
Regardless, the best plan of attack for finding it was to try to figure out either of the theater names.
Sometimes, if the name isn’t plainly visible in a shot, you can figure out the theater’s location by the movie titles on the marquee, which you might be able to find in the showtime listings in an old New York newspaper. But before I did that, I tried a more direct approach since the last two letters of one of the theater’s name were visible on top of its marquee — it was the letters RA.
When I saw the RA, my first instinct was that the name was Riviera and I immediately went to the Cinema Treasures website to check it out. But after looking at a 1940 photograph of a Riviera Theater on Broadway, I could see that the lettering didn’t match what was in this film — specifically, the A had a curved top in the 1940 photo while the A had a pointed top in the scene.
For some reason, I didn’t bother to check out some of the other photos on the site. But a couple days later, my research partner Blakeslee, who was also researching this scene, did — and he quickly zeroed in on another photo of the Riviera taken in the 1970s.
In that photo, you can see that the lettering had since changed and now matched what was in the film.
As further evidence that we found the correct location, after I brightened up some frames from the scene, I spotted a matching structure on the median strip. The small Beaux-Arts building, located smack in the middle of Broadway, was originally a restroom, but ever since 1986, it’s been a gallery and gathering center for The West Side Arts Coalition.
Sadly, as to the Riviera and Riverside Theatres, both were demolished in the early 1980s to make way for the large apartment tower that’s there today. But back in 1913, when the Riviera first opened, it ws a live theater that later became part of what was known as the “Subway Circuit.”
The “Subway Circuit,” a special program initiated in the early 20th century, involved six legitimate theaters in the New York area that were reachable through the subway system. Their function was to house either an established Broadway show on its way to a national tour, or a new show that was doing a test run before heading to Broadway. As described in a 1923 article in the Deseret News, these circuit tours helped develop new audiences with the “real New Yorkers,” who normally couldn’t afford tickets to high-profile Broadway shows.
The Subway Circuit faded away by the 1950s as live shows were being replaced by flashy double features and television sets started to find their ways into people’s homes.
While this location has since been widely recognized on the internet, when I first started casually looking up movie locations in the early 2010’s, there wasn’t much out there.
However, since the actual name of the bar, Jilly’s, was on the awning outside, there wasn’t much difficulty in finding the right address. I quickly found an old menu on sale at Ebay’s that had its address printed on the back and “suggestions for dinner” printed on the front.
Jilly’s was owned by restauranter and entertainer Jilly Rizzo, who also happened to be one of Frank Sinatra’s closest friends. The two reportedly first met at Jilly’s, which soon became a favorite hang out for Ol’ Blue Eyes.
With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Sinatra who suggested to production that they film this scene at his friend’s establishment.
Born in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, Rizzo supposedly wasn’t shy about ordering his patrons around whenever the famous Italian singer would visit his bar/restaurant, making sure everything was copacetic. Afterall, the Sinatra association is what put Jilly’s on the map.
As told by comedian Pat Cooper:
When Frank walked in there, it was chaos. Nobody was supposed to know he was coming in, but the staff would let out the word and the place started filling up wall to wall. You knew the ‘Chairman of the Board’ was going to stroll in any minute when you spotted a string of big-name celebrities walk in within about a half hour of each other—names like Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Al Martino, Jerry Vale, Robert Wagner, and his wife, the beautiful Natalie Wood.
In any other famous club, that alone would have been the event, but at Jilly’s, it was like the trombone section at the head of a parade.
In 1992, on his 75th birthday, Jilly Rizzo was killed in an automobile accident in Palm Desert when he was struck by an allegedly drunk driver, causing his car to explode. According to the local Sheriff Department, his body was burned so bad it was beyond recognition.
I’m not saying there was anything suspicious going on there, but the story almost sounds like it could be a scene straight out of Manchurian Candidate.
Jumping in a Lake
Having taken place at Central Park’s iconic Bethesda Terrace and the nearby boathouse, the locations of these scenes were hardly a mystery to anyone who knows NYC.
Of course, being very attentive to New York geography, this scene of the two characters traveling from Terrace Drive to the Boathouse did bother me slightly, as their paths didn’t make much sense. They essentially go down some stairs to the lower level of Bethesda Terrace, only to go right back up another set of stairs, and then turn around again to go to the Boathouse.
Ignoring all the unnecessary back and forths, the most glaring geographical error lies in the fact that Shaw could’ve easily jumped into the Lake from Bethesda Terrace, which abuts its south shore.
The filmmakers obviously laid out this more elaborate path for a more dramatic effect. And I’m not really complaining since by doing so, they were able to show what these two different access points to Central Park’s Lake looked like back then.
The Terrace today looks just about the same as it did in 1962, but the boathouse has clearly gotten a few updates.
Located on the eastern shore of the Lake, the Loeb Boathouse is the third permanent structure to be on that site. The first boathouse, designed by Calvert Vaux, was completed in the 1870s, which was then replaced in 1924, only to fall into disrepair a few decades later.
The boathouse that’s there’s today, named after its primary financier Carl M. Loeb, was completed in 1954. Then, in 1983, the building went through some major renovations, which accounts for the visible changes between what it’s like in this movie and what it’s like today.
At the time of the renovations, most of the interior was converted into a restaurant, but there was still a section reserved for rowboat rentals. In addition, the Loeb Boathouse remained a hub for avid bird watchers who can still log their sightings in a “Bird Register” located in the lobby.
As of the time of writing, the long-running restaurant inside the boathouse is scheduled to close its doors at the end of 2022, due to the rising costs of goods and labor. After the announcement of its closure, an anonymous benefactor offered a $6 million donation to save the beautifully-located eatery. However, it was almost immediately rejected by the Parks Department who said they already have plans to find a new operator for the Boathouse.
In any case, the building itself will remain where it is, and boats will continue to be rented out there for the foreseeable future.
Senator Jordan’s Apartment
Honestly, for the longest time, this location wasn’t even on my radar. It had been a while since I saw The Manchurian Candidate in its entirety, and I don’t think I recalled that an exterior of the Senator’s building was ever shown.
Then, once I realized it did exist, I thought it looked like a fake building from a studio backlot. Of course, I realized I was wrong after discovering the address listed on a couple different websites. Amd after checking out the location on Google Street View, I became confident those websites were correct.
It might be noted that for the “before/after” image above, the “after” picture was taken back in 2017. I did go up to the location recently to try to get a more current picture, but discovered the building to be shrouded in scaffolding and wooden boards.
I don’t believe the building is being demolished, I think it’s just being restored. However, it’s hard to say for sure. But if it’s just being worked on, who’s to say what it will look like when its done. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Naturally, the interiors for this scene was not shot on location in New York. The interiors of almost every scene in this movie was shot on a set built at Goldwyn Studios in West Hollywood, California. The one exception is the following climatic sequence, which was a combination of three different locations.
Madison Square Garden
Like the previous “Senator” scene, it wasn’t until I did a deep dive into this film that I realized that the ending took place in New York. For some reason, in my memory, the convention was being held in some entirely different city.
Then, after reading all these contemporaneous articles talking about how Frankenheimer had chosen to film at Madison Square Garden, I immediately rewatched the film, paying close attention to the ending. Sure enough, it was clearly taking place at the Garden.
Frankenheimer shot all the exteriors there, as well as the interiors when the arena was being set up for the convention (and more or less empty). All the stuff that happens once the convention gets started was shot in Los Angeles at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, as well as sets built at the studio.
The hotel room across from Madison Square Garden was also a Hollywood set. Frankenheimer used a process shot to make it look like it was taking place on the corner of W 50th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York, across from the old Garden that preceded the one that’s currently at Penn Station.
When it was built in 1925, it was actually titled the “New” Madison Square Garden. It was the third indoor arena to bear that name, but the first to be located away from Madison Square Park.
Shortly after this third Madison Square Garden began construction on Eighth Avenue, the second one on E 26th Street was being taken down. Designed by the prolific architect Stanford White in 1890, it was ironically at that building’s rooftop restaurant where he was murdered by millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw in 1906 over an affair he had with his wife.
Unlike Stanford White’s Beaux-Arts structure, the New Madison Square Garden on Eighth wasn’t much of an architectural showstopper, looking more like an industrial block than an entertainment center. But its flashing lights, its massive arched marquee and its jam-packed lineup of events helped make this new Garden the biggest success of all three.
The person behind the new Garden was boxing promoter and consummate showman, George L. “Tex” Rickard, who was able to drum up exorbitant amounts of publicity for his latest project.
The total cost of construction came to around $5.5 million, which would equal close to 100 million in today’s dollars. By all accounts, the new MSG was touted by critics as a great improvement over its predecessor. Inside, the main arena was capable of accommodating 20-30,000 people, and underneath, there was a performance hall where more people could enjoy a variety of different shows.
Some of the Garden’s early events that wowed audiences weren’t just athletic attractions, they including such things as the Barnum & Bailey Circus, a world-renowned rodeo, star-studded concerts and large political rallies of all different leanings. In fact, in 1939, a pro-Nazi rally was held at the Garden. The event caused such an uproar, police were called in to break things up as tens of thousands of protestors reportedly jammed the surrounding streets.
Less than forty years after its opening, the “New” Garden was being prepared for its closure as the forth sports arena was being built into the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. In 1968, shortly after the opening of the new Garden at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, the former Garden on Eighth Avenue got demolished. The site remained vacant for over twenty years, serving as a parking lot until 1989 when the current Worldwide Plaza was erected there.
With this third iteration of MSG now long gone, it’s nice we have this film to serve as a small time capsule of what it used to look like, both inside and out.
Watching The Manchurian Candidate as a teenager, it was one of my first experiences with a bleak sociopolitical thriller, and it stuck with me for a long time.
Consistently regarded as a masterpiece by contemporary critics, when Manchurian Candidate was first released in the fall of 1962, it only did mediocre business and eventually faded away until being rediscovered in the late 1980s. However, some have claimed the movie was actually banned after the Kennedy assassination in ’63, or that Sinatra himself had the film withdrawn from release — neither of which have been shown to be true.
After this tale was repeated in 2008 in the liner notes of a Frankenheimer DVD box set, Michael Schlesinger, a classic film distributor at MGM, wrote a statement in The Los Angeles Times to set the record straight:
By late 1963, the film had simply played out. The original deal was for 10 years, and it was, to put it charitably, not a very good one. When the time came to renew in 1972, Sinatra’s attorneys opted to take the movie back and bury their “mistake” [of having accepted the original deal].
And so it remained “lost” until 1987, when the New York Film Festival requested it for its 25th anniversary. By then, Sinatra had new attorneys with no ax to grind and they consented [to release the film]. The reaction was so overwhelming that MGM/UA immediately struck a new — and much fairer — deal to reacquire the rights.
We opened the film in February 1988 to fabulous reviews and tremendous business, and it has stayed available for theaters, TV and home entertainment ever since. But it was never “withdrawn” prior to 1972.
That being said, I’m sure the similarities between The Manchurian Candidate‘s ending and the tragic Kennedy assassination didn’t do the film any favors.
While The Manchurian Candidate has lost a little of its luster for me over the years, I can still appreciate it as a fascinating artistic achievement that represented some of the abject feelings stirring inside the United States at the time. But I must admit, if there were more NYC locations in it, the film would probably hold a higher place in my heart.
The film’s biggest drawback for me is the casting of Sinatra, whom I’ve never been much of a fan, although I acknowledge that his acting in this is probably some of his best. In fact, almost all of the acting in this film is spot-on, particularly with the secondary characters, who were each played with such lively gusto.
Of course, the stand-out performance has to be with the late Angela Lansbury as the devilishly evil mother of Shaw, who amazingly was only three years older that Lawrence Harvey, who played her son. What makes it so memorable is that her character was so diametrically opposed to the image Lansbury achieved later in her career – most notably as the good-natured amateur sleuth, Jessica Fletcher, in the TV series, Murder She Wrote.
It was certainly sad when I found out about Lansbury’s passing (especially so soon after her co-star, Henry Silva passed away). But luckily, I got to see her perform live on Broadway during the 2012 revival of Gore Vidal’s 1960 play, The Best Man, alongside James Earl Jones, Michael McKean and Candice Bergen.
It’s one of those nice benefits of living in NYC.