Seconds after taping it last week off of TCM. The first 80 minutes or so I absolutely hated, bored to tears and hoping the ending would salvage something out of this wreck. Surprisingly enough, I was rewarded. How often does that happen? A movie you're not enjoying actually gets better? No way. But still, the build-up was excruciatingly dull at times in an effort to be different. So did the ending save the movie?
Director John Frankenheimer is one of my favorite directors with his unique visual style and storytelling ability. His critics use those things against him, saying that his movies often lacked heart. True to a point but not as a broad, all-covering statement for a director that made his fair share of classics. His 'Seconds' is a deeply flawed movie and one that certainly qualifies as heavy on style, short on heart (until the end at least). It tries to be too different, too groundbreaking in delivering an interesting story that would have sufficed on its own.
A middle-aged loan officer at a bank with a wife and kids, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is in a rut. He's incredibly on edge after he receives several calls in the dead of night from an old friend, Charlie, who Arthur believed was dead. Charlie delivers an ominous message for Arthur to go to a specified address. He somewhat suspiciously goes along and discovers a company that offers people a second chance in life. For a fee, their death is faked and through extensive plastic surgery they are reborn and given a new life. Arthur agrees and in his new life is Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), a young painter living in California with absolutely no responsibilities. But Arthur/Tony quickly realizes maybe his life wasn't so bad in the first place.
The story itself is pretty trippy and appropriately came from a source novel. Kudos to the author on originality. But that unique-feeling of the story is slowed down to a snail's pace as it is revealed. The premise is great, but Frankenheimer spends too long on the reveal. I won't say he's showing off with the camera, but some shaky-cam and in-your-face shooting is evident in the early segments. The reveal itself with Jeff Corey playing an executive of the 'Seconds' company is pretty good, if somewhat confusing, but post-surgery the slow pacing comes back. One really bizarre sequence has Tony and his new girlfriend, Nora (Salome Jens), taking part in some weird hippie wine-making ritual.
It is in his new life that Tony realizes he still has all the same problems he used to have. He even breaks down and goes and sees his "widow," posing as an old friend of her dead husband. This is when the movie picks up in terms of storytelling, style and a twist so perfect I wouldn't even think of blowing it here. The ending twist isn't one that is hinted at other than a throwaway line early in the movie so when it comes, it should hopefully catch you completely off guard. Credit to Hudson in these final scenes for some of the most emotional, wordless acting I've ever seen.
Other than the obvious physical differences between Randolph and Hudson -- and a 10-year age difference -- that makes the transformation a little too remarkably well done, I have no problem with the acting. Randolph is a depressed middle-aged man looking for a second chance but at the same time is wary of an offer that seems too good to be true. Hudson delivers maybe his best performance as Tony, an older man trying to live again as a younger man. At times a little over the top, his part is still dead-on. Corey and Will Geer are frighteningly calm as two executives at 'the company' with Richard Anderson as the brilliant surgeon rounding out the unholy trilogy.
So all that said, it's hard to recommend this one. The first 75 minutes was extremely difficult for me to watch, even with a very visual style that borders on showing off. Great movie to look at, sure, but in terms of story I wasn't interested. And that's with an incredibly innovative premise! However, the ending is a perfect mix of paranoia, fear and realizing your mistakes too late. Know that the first 3/4 of the movie can be difficult to get through, but the ending makes those struggles worthwhile.
Seconds <----trailer (1966): **/****