'Seconds' *** 072206
(1966) DVD Review

The Work = ***
John Frankenheimer’s film 'Seconds' is often mentioned as a sort of cult film. I remember a professor I had at college spoke very fondly of the film and I had wanted to see it for quite awhile. Paramount released it on DVD and I was finally able to see it. I cannot recommend Seconds for everyone but those inclined to give it a try should definitely check it out.

The film tells the story of Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) who is unhappy with his life. Distant and withdrawn from his wife, successful but miserable, Hamilton desperately wants a change. Opportunity comes in the form of a phone call from an old friend and Hamilton is just unhappy enough to make the leap for a change. Up until now I have made this film sound like a fairly typical film, it is not. To continue I will have to go into plot spoilers so if you are curious and want to know nothing, stop reading after this paragraph and go out and rent the sucker! Shot in black and white, 'Seconds' reminded me of Frankenheimer’s take on a 1960s mash of David Lynch meets Charlie Kaufman. This is a dark journey and not necessarily a happy one. ******SPOILERS AHEAD******

The film starts in the middle of Hamilton’s journey to change his life. He is going to go to a company that has a unique offer: they will allow Hamilton to die and be reborn as a completely new person. They will fake his death, plastic surgery up his looks, (even change his signature) and give him a new identity: that of Tony Wilson. Hamilton is scared and confused as he follows the clues to find the company. He is convinced by his friend on the phone, who is also a client, and naturally has been dead for some time.

When Hamilton becomes Wilson the role switches and Wilson is played by non other than Rock Hudson. If you know what Randolph and Hudson looked like in the mid 60s you may scoff at the idea of the two playing the same role but Frankenheimer and company pull it off (thanks in part to a disturbing surgery sequence (that apparently uses some footage of a real surgery!) Wilson is the polar opposite of Hamilton on the surface and at first it seems like the new life the company sets up for him will work out. Things begin to downward spiral when Wilson begins to bring up his old life.

I have to admit I’m doing a pretty bad job of selling this film but I will say that much of this film has to seen to appreciated. Everyone involved with the film is firing on all cylinders. Cinematographer James Wong Howe works very well with Frankenheimer, creating stark imagery in often every day settings that bring to life the character’s unease. Jerry Goldsmith’s score accompanies the visuals (such as a creepy title sequence by Saul Bass.) The score is moody, organ heavy and a great addition to the film which is tightly edited by David Newhouse. Hudson leads the cast here and is very good (even with the re-dubbed audio, done to remove excessive camera noise.) Hudson is better here than he ever got credit for and shows he was capable of much more than he got do in most of his roles.

One final note in the review: there are a few different cuts of 'Seconds' out there but this is the only one I have seen. I am going to default to DVD Savant Glenn Erickson from on this issue:

"In the 1996, Paramount lengthened Seconds by replacing the original, racier cut of the scene at the Santa Barbara wine fair. It's been restored here without explanation, giving the film an R rating, and may confuse those who saw the original domestic release, which could never have contained this content. The nude scenes were found intact on an international negative for export, a French cut to be exact. Writer Bill Desowitz (now of Animation Magazine) realized the source for the restoration was a French print by watching the earlier laser release, which also cut a scene where Rock Hudson is given fake credentials for his new persona as a high-toned artist. A reference to a counterfeit diploma from the Sorbonne was missing - apparently the French censor wasn't bothered by the nudity, but couldn't abide the suggestion that the Sorbonne's integrity could be compromised! " Maybe this is where the French audio track came from... The full review can be found here.

*******END SPOILERS******

DVD = ****

The Look
'Seconds' is show in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a good transfer of a very pretty film. The black and white cinematography looks great and there was a minimum amount of print damage. I

The Sound
The soundrack is available English and French mono tracks. The audio could have used a bit of a remix imho but it still sounds pretty good to me. (I only listened to the English track.) English subtitles are available.

The Bonus
Extra features are a trailer and a commentary track by the late Frankenheimer. 'Seconds' could have used a making of, considering its unique look and feel and its history. Frankenheimer made for pretty good commentary tracks and this one is no exception. It is a tad dry and technical but there is still a lot of great info to get from it. It is too bad Frankenheimer didn’t get the chance to record more commentaries for his films. One note, the set up menu shows a screen shot from the end of the film that is not really a huge spoiler but you might want to be aware of it non the less.

All Together = ***
So I can’t recommend this to all but I can say it is a bit of a hidden classic. It is worth mentioning that this one stuck with me. Not only have I been telling everyone I can about the film but I had a very creepy dream that was definitely influenced by 'Seconds'. Frankenheimer was a great director who came from television to film and frequently returned to television. His body of work has a surprisingly large amount of strong films like: 'The Manchurian Candidate', 'The Train', 'Ronin' and 'Seconds'. Yes, he had some forgettable films that did not work but he remains an underrated director that passed away far too soon. Fans of his should check this out, as well as fans of dark cinema and hey, if you are curious give it a try. It may not be a happy one but Seconds is if nothing else a memorable film. Recommended.


'Seconds' Links:


Glenn Erickson's review at

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.