There are conspiracy movies, there are political thrillers, there are films that spark entirely new cinematic genres — and then there’s The Manchurian Candidate. A half-century old this year, John Frankenheimer’s masterpiece was the first great conspiracy film — and the movie by which all other conspiracy flicks have been, and always will be, measured. The story, from a 1959 Richard Condon novel, is mind-bending enough: the scion of an American political dynasty (Laurence Harvey) is captured during the Korean War. Taken to Manchuria in northeast Red China, he is brainwashed, then released, unaware that he’s been primed to assassinate a Presidential candidate when activated back in the States by his communist “operator” — in fact, his stepmother, played with reptilian glee by Angela Lansbury. But beyond the heart-racing plot and the tremendous acting (Frank Sinatra is especially good as Harvey’s old Army buddy), The Manchurian Candidate retains it status as a one-of-a-kind classic in large part because of Frankenheimer’s inventive, highly stylized direction and the film’s confident, propulsive pacing. This is politics, and filmmaking, the way they’re meant to be: breathless.