Movie Review: Seconds

Seconds Movie Poster

John Frankenheimer’s Seconds is an unsettling and uniquely gripping film.  Sadly, it seems to be largely unknown or forgotten.  This is a shame, and I hope to do my little part to change that.  Excellent actors, filmmakers at the top of their game, and a twisting plot.  In gorgeous black and white, with stark lighting and intense cinematography, it reminds me of some of the better Outer Limits episodes.

    Right from the beginning, you know something is up.  The opening credits by Saul Bass, with the music by Jerry Goldsmith are creepy.  However, it’s when the actors come on screen that the real weird starts.  Crazy camera work puts you right on the edge and keeps you there.  John Randolph plays Arthur Hamilton, a man with a lot on his mind and not having a very good time of it.  When he gets a call from a friend, a friend who should be dead, things get much worse.  There are touches of Orson Welles’ The Trial.  But again it’s reminiscent of the creepy, psychological sci-fi horror you’d find on The Outer Limits.  I have a strong feeling that David Fincher’s The Game owes a lot to this movie.  Even a dash of The Prisoner can be detected.  The sense of sinister menace, of impending doom, sadness and confusion soak through every moment.  Even when things seem to be going very well for our protagonist, when he’s rebuilt to be a handsome, younger man (Rock Hudson), with no responsibilities or demands, something is deeply wrong.

This sinister company at the center of the action is a riddle.  They provide a service.  But is a deal with them a deal with the devil?  They offer an escape from the suffocating result of all life’s less successful choices.  And they provide what they claim, for a price that seems fair when you get right down to it.  A fresh start.  A second chance at the life hoped for in youth.

The characters are broken and strange, lost and alone.  They try to reach out to each other, but fumble and fall.  Sometimes it’s hard to like them while at others you see the hurt child in yourself and hope they’ll turn out OK.  In spite of the visceral horror I have for hippies, our protagonist’s break through during the Bacchanalian debauch is somehow invigorating.  If you’re given everything you want, does anything you have really matter?  Can you really know what you want?  And who are you anyway?  What drives you, what scares you, and what lets you connect with another human being?  Are any connections with other people real?  And if you take away your past, good or bad, can you really be you?

Salome Jens has that enigmatic, dreamy, sad, and potentially dangerous European temptress vibe that was such a strong presence in 60s and 70s cinema.  Rock Hudson gives a powerhouse performance.  Sometimes it’s painful to watch, as he rises and descends in madness, sadness, and good cheer.  The party sequence, where Hudson actually got plastered to make the performance more ‘authentic’ is gut wrenching and heartbreaking.  And the finale.  Sweet mother.  The finale ranks up there with Requiem for a Dream on nerve-shattering factor.  This is what movies are about.  And like the best science fiction, it’s about people and what it means to be.  The elements of weird science and speculation are used to explore ourselves and our values.  If you haven’t seen Seconds, you should go out and get a copy.  No ray guns or space ships, but still a grand science fiction film.

You can follow me on Twitter at @TheOmegaDork.

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