Seconds makes a perfect companion paranoia piece to auteur filmmaker John Frankenheimer’s earlier masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate. The storylines share little in common, though there is a similar mood and series of themes running through the dissimilar narratives. Both involve are shot in stark black and white, with purposefully feverish camera angles, and both stories rely on covert scientific experiments which force our protagonist to question the reality of his existence. These are science fiction films which make use of a growing distrust in government and authority in the 1960s.
Seconds has the type of plot which could easily be made today as a large-scale
Hollywood blockbuster, complete with as many chase
sequences as the narrative could hold. The way that Frankenheimer approaches it
is much quieter, however, combining the creativity and mysteriousness of a
“Twilight Zone” episode with the artistic patience of John Cassavetes. The film
follows the dark path taken by a tired old bank executive named Arthur Hamilton
(John Randolph), who late in life realizes that he may have been too safe with
his choices. Given the opportunity for a second chance, is contacted by a friend telling him
about a company with the ability to use science in order to give the old man a
new body. Hamilton
After bringing Frank Sinatra acclaim with The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer makes another revelatory casting decision by placing Rock Hudson in the role of Arthur Hamilton’s new persona, Antiochus Wilson. Whereas the company that gave him this opportunity had planned for
to do thing differently, the life of quiet brooding changes only in location.
Even with a new job as a painter, complete with a failsafe plan that removes
any pressure for success, Wilson Wilson is even more
was, leading to a revelatory final twist which adds a chilling context for the
entire film. Hamilton
Frankenheimer’s filmography is remarkable for many reasons, one of which is the mere length of time he has continued to make solid suspense and thrillers, but his paranoia films from the 1960s are the solid foundation of his illustrious career. The Criterion Blu-ray release for Seconds includes a newly restored 4K digital film transfer, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack and optional director’s commentary track. Additional special features include a new interview with Alec Baldwin, a new making-of program about the film, as well as an excerpt from an older behind-the-scenes program for the film and an interview with Frankenheimer from the early 1970s. There is the usual booklet insert with an essay by film critic David Sterritt, as well as a new visual essay by R. Bartin Palmer and Murray Pomerance, which is included on the dic.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 10/10
Historical Significance: 8/10
Disc Features: 9/10