Trivia The house that is provided for Rock Hudson's character was owned by director John Frankenheimer. It was later sold.
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6th Jun 05
Bored middle-aged bank manager John Randolph is approached by a ‘Company’ who offer him the chance to be reborn as a successful, much younger man. He accepts.
Let’s face it. John Frankenheimer has been responsible for some top-drawer films. He’s the man responsible for Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, and, of course, Seconds - the darkest of them all. I first read about this film when I was a student about 8 years ago. The book was about cult films and the text impressed me almost as much as the stills from the movie. I HAD to see this film! Unfortunately for me it wasn’t available on video at the time and has only recently become available on DVD for the first time. I did however catch it for the first time when shown on BBC2 a few years ago and let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly disappointed. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is the finest film Frankenheimer has made.
Imagine if you will, being middle aged, bloated, in a boring, thankless job and trapped in a loveless marriage. And that’s the way it’s going to continue until you’re 6 feet under. You get late night phone calls from an old friend. Normally this would be ok, but the friend who’s making the calls has been dead for some time. On your way home from work one day someone gives you a piece of paper with an address on it, just after you board the train. The man gets off the train and disappears. You think about little else about what all this could possibly mean. You follow the instructions on the piece of paper and you end up in a strange environment where you are offered a unique transformation to be reborn as a younger, handsome man, with a different name, occupation, etc. You accept, leaving your old life behind you, going under the knife in a revolutionary procedure to make you into…Rock Hudson. The ‘Company’ takes care of everything, including making the old you officially dead with help from the CPS (Cadaver Procurement Section). You are now Tony Wilson - renowned artist, and are relocated to an idyllic, beautiful house by the sea. This is where you slowly integrate yourself into the local community. This is where your new life begins. Good luck.
Seconds was SO ahead of its time in 1966. It’s a deeply unsettling film. It’s fair to say that it’s revolutionary, a bit like the transformative plastic surgery techniques used in the story. Even the very concept of casting Rock Hudson (who was by tradition a very safe actor who certainly had no reputation for risk-taking) is in itself pioneering and audacious. And the subject matter? Human worthlessness, rebirth and alienation were hardly commonplace, staple themes of mid 1960’s Hollywood productions. It’s fair to say that no-one had seen anything quite like the masterpiece that is Seconds upon it’s initial release.
From the beginning we can tell that this is obviously something special. A truly disconcerting opening title sequence designed by non other than the Yoda of title design, Saul Bass, pulls us in to an uncomfortable world of distorted human body / bandages close-ups in a ominous visual forecast of what is to come. This is where we begin to observe the style of the piece, thanks largely to one key player in this production – cinematographer James Wong How. Wong How was 70 years of age when he shot Seconds and his experience clearly shows through the visual depth of the film. Everything is a pleasure to look at and the sense of framing is exceptional throughout. The disorientating shots and angles manage to mirror the displacement going on in Hudson’s own universe and I’m pretty certain that this was the first film to ever mount the camera on a walking actor, just as Scorsese did later in Mean Streets. Just don’t let anyone tell you Scorsese was the first to do it.
If there was ever a film which takes you on a personal journey, Seconds is it. From John Randolph’s initial pilgrimage to the Company at the beginning of the story, right through his rebirth, the adjustment process, falling in love, and the right back to the Company after it all goes wrong. Because it DOES go wrong. Very wrong. This is where Frankenheimer takes us. We don’t want to go there but he’s going to take us there anyway. In the story, ‘reborns’ must never speak of their past life or the Company. Under ANY circumstances. Every filmic device available to Frankenheimer is used to indicate that our man is going to mess up. And when he does it’s scarier than pretty much anything you will ever see in a horror film.
Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score is excellent and eerily appropriate in every way. As for the cast, it seems as if Frankenheimer had a great bunch of people wanting to work with him because the cast of peripheral characters in Seconds is so strong that the viewer’s immersion into this strange world of ‘second chances in life’ feels effortless.
Highly intelligent with something to say, Seconds will captivate from the outset, intrigue in its premise, and chill with its bleak sense of paranoia.
John Frankenheimer sums it up like this: “Without your past, you’re nothing.”
Seconds has nearly all the elements. To make it complete, see it.