Tuesday, June 12, 2012

452. SECONDS (1966)

Running Time: 107 minutes
Directed By: John Frankenheimer
Written By: Lewis John Carlino, from novel by David Ely
Main Cast: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Greer, Jeff Corey
Click here to view the trailer


I've been eyeballing "Seconds" ever since I purchased the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and last night I finally got the chance to check it out. If I said I wasn't disappointed, I'd be lying.

Arthur Hamilton (Randolph) is a middle-aged, bank worker whose life has lost it's purpose. He and his wife barely speak and they haven't been affectionate in years. His daughter lives on the other side of the country and once in a while, if he's lucky, she writes a letter. One day, while riding the subway home from work, a stranger passes a note to Arthur on which is written an address. Later that evening, Arthur receives a call from his old friend Charlie Evans. The unsettling thing about the call is that Charlie has been dead for years. At first, Arthur dismisses the call as a prank, but realizes that it's actually Charlie when the voice on the other end of the phone tells him things that only Charlie could know. Charlie tells Arthur to show up at the address the next day and use the name Mr. Wilson. He promises that Arthur's life will be changed forever and for the better. Arthur tosses and turns on the whether or not to go to the address and finally decides to see what it's all about. When he shows up, he finds a meat packing plant. The men, dressed in butcher's clothing address him by the name Mr. Wilson and tell him that he's been expected. He is then transported to another building, where he awaits to find out the details about the unusual phone call and Charlie's promise of a new life. It turns out that Charlie has referred Arthur to "The Company", an organization that specializes in creating new lives for their clients. They fake their deaths, have their clients go through radical cosmetic surgeries and even provide compensation to the client's loved ones. At first, Arthur is hesitant, but after a talk with the Company's head (Greer), he changes his mind and decides to go through with the procedure.


The bread was great! In other words, the beginning and end were the stuff great films are made of and the middle portion was kind of a big "WTF" moment. As movie fans we've all had those films that get us excited. We read a plot synopsis or see a trailer and think, "Wow, this film was made for my eyes. There's no way I'm going to dislike this one!" We head into it and one of two things happen, we either love it, just like we thought we would or we're disappointed. "Seconds" starts out, like any other film, with opening credits and let me tell you, even the opening credits to this film were marvelous. Sporting PERFECT music by Jerry Goldsmith, the film immediately puts you into an uneasy place. Followed by that, the film is beautifully edited together, using absolutely gorgeous and eerie cinematography by James Wong Howe. The crispness of the black and white, the camera lens that seems to twist and contort the world that it films, it all works wonders to make this film look like a masterpiece. And hey, the acting is top notch too as John Randolph is plucked off the Hollywood blacklist and reinstated as an actor by John Frankenheimer and what a choice Frankenheimer made as the guy really shines as Arthur Hamilton. The actors that show up when Arthur enters "The Company" are great too, playing the crooked, eerie characters that they were cast to play. And, of course, the story is appealing, as we're left with just as many questions as the main character and that's always good when we can relate to a character and wonder the same things they'd be wondering about.

Then the procedure happens and everything goes downhill. Arthur Hamilton wakes up as Tony Wilson (Hudson), a bachelor and a painter living in California. He is put up in a beautiful house and given a man servant, John, an employee at The Company, to help with his transition. John continually hounds Tony about throwing a party and meeting the neighbors and Tony continually denies the suggestion. Later, Tony meets Nora (Jens), a free spirited woman and accompanies her to a weird, hippie party where men and women strip naked, pile into a huge barrel full of grapes, make wine and have an orgy. It's as weird as hell and I have no idea what it has to do with getting a new face or identity. Tony then proclaims love for Nora and the he finally gives in on having a party. At the party, he gets too drunk and spills the beans about his old life, but it's okay, because the majority of the guests are reborns (clients of The Company). He is then taken back to The Company, Nora is totally forgotten about and she never shows back up and the entire ending is pretty crazy, scary, haunting and unsettling, not to mention perfect.

Why we had to take that detour to the hippie Californian lifestyle of the 1960s, I have no idea. Hey, I have nothing against hippie Californians, but they had no place here. This was the kind of film that really makes you wish YOU could've been the screenwriter, so that you could've molded it exactly how you wanted it. When we head to California, we completely abandon the central premise of the film, which is a man coping with his new identity. I enjoyed the scenes where Tony talks with his ex-wife (of course, she doesn't know she's his ex-wife) and the scene where Tony has a conversation with Charlie (the great Murray Hamilton). I kind of thought that The Company was going to end up screwing Arthur over and as Tony, he'd have to try and convince his wife that he was really Arthur. That would've been a lot of fun. However, the film didn't take the road I wish it had taken and really didn't take a sensible route at all. I can't totally deny it credit, because a lot of it was perfect and it's a film that I'll probably never forget, simply because of the unsettling, uneasy atmosphere. I'll never forget that picture of Rock Hudson, gagged and tied to a gurney, screaming for his life. Hudson was magnificent here! This film also reserves a spot for John Frankenheimer in the corner of my mind, as he has shown me two really good films during my journey (the other being "The Manchurian Candidate").

RATING: 7/10  I had a big fat ten pegged for "Seconds", but it didn't pan out that way. This 100 has become famous for lowering the standards of a '7' rated film. A '7' used to be very good, but lately I've seen a ton of movies that have only received a '7' because they failed to hit that upper echelon of eight and above.


June 12, 2012  2:50pm


  1. Another one I only managed to get hold of recently.. And I'm pretty much with you on the assessment, except perhaps a little more dissapointed.
    This also was one I settled down 'determined to enjoy'.. and likewise it was that rather weirdly pointless 'orgy'that I will remember as spoiling it.

    1. I honestly think it will need another look sometime down the road, but for now, yes, a disappointment.


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