Although described as a sci-fi thriller in most quarters, both of these labels seem a little too disingenuous when it comes to identifying the twisted beauty of Seconds (1966). The film’s opening credits courtesy of the great Saul Bass offer an abstract and distorted reflection of a series of figures. It’s a simply-staged but hugely effective visual precursor to a film which itself relies little on the sometimes hokey devices used to tell what is ostensibly a preposterous yarn.
Shooting largely in sweaty close-up, director John Frankenheimer injects a loose vérité style which constantly invokes an uneasy feeling of creeping paranoia. This is beautifully established in the masterfully orchestrated pre-Steadicam opening sequence which uses cinematic techniques now firmly entrenched in the cinematic lexicon, having since been aped most recently by the likes of Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky. Like the best films from its genre, Seconds acts as a potent parable and posits an intriguing idea.
Having lived a plentiful life, what if you could essentially start again, shedding your persona, family and all the emotional baggage that comes with both? That’s what Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) has decided to do via a shadowy organisation known only as ‘The Company’. Suffering the ultimate mid-life crisis, Hamilton has his entire life scrubbed and is offered the ability to reboot via the body of a younger man (Rock Hudson) through experimental surgery. Despite being relocated in relative luxury to the other side of the country, with an in-house man servant and a pretty, free-spirited chick to occupy his time (Salome Jens), Hamilton is uncomfortable in his (literal) new skin. But his angst and disruptive behaviour isn’t quite the journey his facilitators had in mind when they offered him the life-changing opportunity.
From its uncompromisingly downbeat ending, through to that stripped-down experimental shooting style, Seconds more than stands up there with the more notable and accessible films in Frankenheimer’s oeuvre like 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz and The Manchurian Candidate. Hudson, more synonymous with fluffy rom-coms at that time, is something of a revelation here. He gives a deeply committed and haunting performance and is almost too painful to watch at times, particularly during a drunken breakdown as he struggles to reconcile his new life with the past. The gorgeous transfer of the film’s luscious black and white cinematography on this disc will undoubtedly appeal to fervent cineastes, but those who are unfamiliar with the film should also take that leap into Seconds’ trippy headspace.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76