Seconds (1966)

“The years I’ve spent trying to get all the things I was told were important – that I was supposed to want! Things! Not people … or meaning. Just things.” Bleak, disturbing and uncompromising, this intense existential science fiction/horror flick was directed by John Frankenheimer and based on a 1963 novel of the same name by David Ely. Boring middle-aged banker “Arthur Hamilton” (John Randolph) is living a drab, empty suburban existence. Through a mysterious call from “Charlie Evans” (Murray Hamilton) – a long-lost pal who is supposedly dead! – Arthur gets hooked up with a secret organization simply known as “the Company” that allows customers to be “reborn” by faking their deaths and setting up new, more exciting lives for them. After extensive surgery, Arthur transforms into “Tony Wilson” (now portrayed by Rock Hudson), relocates to a Malibu beach house, begins a new life as an “artist” and embarks on a relationship with a neighbor “Nora Marcus” (Salome Jens). However, Arthur/Tony has trouble adjusting and everything begins to go terribly wrong. Strong performances abound, especially from Hudson, Randolph and Will Geer as the grandfatherly, ultimately sinister “Old Man” – the brains behind the Company. I especially enjoy the scene that features a bewildered Tony trapped at the bacchanalian wine festival; the dinner party scene, where Tony reverts to a boorish middle-aged drunk and discovers a disturbing truth about his neighbors; and Tony desperately awaiting “reassignment.” The nightmarish final scene is very disturbing – one of the bleakest endings in film history. The film’s amazing claustrophobic black-and-white cinematography by James Wong Howe was nominated for an Academy Award. Seconds also features an amazing title sequence by Saul Bass and a nice score by Jerry Goldsmith. Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier were both considered for the role of Tony Wilson. Seconds is the final film in Frankenheimer’s so-called “Paranoia Trilogy” along with The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964). A box-office bomb, Seconds has gained quite a cult following over the years. Highly recommended! Randolph portrayed the father of “Clark W. Griswold” in Christmas Vacation (1989). In the Guide for the Film Fanatic (1986), Danny Peary calls Seconds “one of the most depressing science-fiction films ever made.”

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