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Paramount Studios presents
"What kind of man is he? There's grace in the line and color, but it doesn't emerge pure. It pushes at the edge of something still tentative, unresolved—as if somewhere in the man there is still a key unturned."
DVD ReviewEndlessly imitated and often referenced, John Frankenheimer's 1966 film Secondsis one of the ultimate psychological thrillers. As if sprung from the imagination of FranzKafka, Seconds is about a mysterious, anonymous organization that offers adream-come-true: the ability to start your life over with a new identity and career. Like all good offers, though, this one comes with a string attached. A triumph of style and technique, Seconds tells this story in an extremely unconventional, almost surreal way, making it something far ahead of its time, and especially gutsy for featured star Rock Hudson.
As the story opens, we meet Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a prosperous banker who,despite having a stable life, wants something more for himself. He is contacted by a mysterious individual who claims to be an old friend of his. The problem is, his friend supposedly died some years previous. Through cryptic phone calls, Arthur is guided towards an enigmatic 'company' that serves one role: to supply people with new lives. For a substantial fee, Arthur can become someone else and have his old personality killed off, giving him new freedom to take on the life he wants. Unable to resist this rather dark offer, Arthur decides to "kill himself" and is then transformed into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), a popular artist with financial and career security. Unfortunately, the transition from simple banker into established painter leaves him with an empty feeling. While he attempts to make do, and even begins a romance, he still feels as if perhaps he made an error in judgment in becoming "reborn."
To go into anymore detail would ruin the subtle surprises of Seconds, and that's really what the film is all about: surprises. Of course, being more than 30 years old, those moments may not have the impact they once did, but like any classic work of suspense, even the predictable moments never die. Frankenheimer turns the style-meter up to full and that is really what grants the film its legendary status. His use of strange camera angles, jarring cuts, painful close-ups, and the wide-angle cinematography of James Wong Howe, function as the central tools that make the film much more eerie and disturbing than it might have been if composed in a conventional manner. The stark black & white photography, combined with the cold score of Jerry Goldsmith also deepens the mood of bleakness, as does Saul Bass' typically excellent titles sequence. Despite being a film about 'rebirth' and new hope, this is certainly a work of art that reflects the very opposite.
Every moment is crafted in a very specific way, and it's obvious that much of Seconds is meant to make the viewer very uncomfortable. Seemingly innocuous moments, like Arthur Hamilton dictating a letter to his secretary, are riddled with tension. Even after his transformation, though, this doesn't end, because he must still adapt. Beyond that, he also tries to become something he isn't—wild and uninhibited. To add to this feel of mental disorientation, there are additional techniques applied, such as distorted sets and fish-eye lens sequences. Much of Seconds actually seems reminiscent of some early German expressionist films (i.e., Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), because of its willingness to go that far to encourage the surreal aspect.
On top of the visuals, the acting certainly bears mentioning since John Randolph and Rock Hudson must both play the same character. Hudson manages to still exude the personality of Randolph, even though he's an entirely different person in terms of looks and stature. Without both of these actors studying and learning from each other, the outcome would have been weak, and we'd just be seeing typical Rock Hudson for most of the film. Instead, despite being top-billed and, technically, the "star" of the film, Hudson really is filling Randolph's shoes. If he had not had the ability to really get that emotional connection across, we would not be as uncomfortable, but since we 'know' these characters, I can't help but still get shivers from certain scenes. While not a horror movie, Seconds still manages to dig into that part of the brain that conjures up those subtle nightmares that are not entirely bad, but have the undercurrent of something rather dark and slithery.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Properly widescreened (a must with all the wide-angle photography), Secondslooks far better than its previous counterparts, and the transfer reflects obvious care for the grainy and aged image. While there is some minor shimmering and movement with all the flat, grey textures, the amount of fine detail and overall cleanliness is impressive. About the only print problems are some rather obvious reel-change markers, but the actual damage and speckles are minimal; mostly obvious during the opening credits than anywhere else. Anamorphic enhancement has given a certain amount of depth to the image that you can really feel (something I notice a lot on Paramount transfers), but does not aggravate aliasing or moire patterns, which surprised me, considering the age and the fact that it is black & white.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is Pro-Logic Mono, and does the job painlessly. Since most of the film is dialogue, there's little to complain about. There's no action, so sound effects are minimal. The most expansive aspect would be the musical score, which sounds very thick and effective, never harsh or flat.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director John Frankenheimer
Extras Review: The only feature on the disc is a commentary track by director John Frankenheimer, and it's a substantial feature from a legendary filmmaker. Without pleasantries or introductions, Frankenheimer jumps right into the technical details and behind-the-scenes trivia. His commentary is well done and elaborates on many elements of the film, including how he wanted the story to progress. He reveals many things that are truly interesting and helps us imagine what it may have been like to actually see the film in 1966, given the social and political climate, especially since almost the entire central cast were formerly blacklisted by the Committee on UnAmerican Activities.
There are English subtitles, an original (non-anamorphic) trailer, and decent presentation (although a little too modernized in my opinion). The film could have used a few more chapter stops, but it's nothing major. It should be mentioned that this is indeed the uncut version of Seconds, not the slightly altered version circulated for some time now, which omitted some nudity.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsDeliberately paced and skillfully handled, Seconds is truly a classic. It defied Hollywood conventions at the time and aimed for something wholly radical, resulting in a very influential work that has and will inspire and effect future cinema for decades to come. Unfortunately, I've heard a remake might be in the cards. I really don't see the point.
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