Click here to return to the main site.
Arthur Hamilton looks like a man who has it all, but in his heart he feels that he has become little more than a soulless consumer of goods, reaping in the rewards of a successful life, but feeling disassociated from his wife and unfulfilled. When a friend who he thought was dead contacts him he is given the opportunity to be reborn, to have his time over, to become a ‘Second’...
Seconds (B&W. 1966. 1 hr, 47 min, 06 sec) is a science fiction/thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer, a highly accomplished technical director, who also made amongst others, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Ronin (1998). The film was shot by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe.
The film is deliberately unsettling in the way it is shot, including the title sequence which examines a human face. Shot via a distorting mirror, the face writhes and distorts reflecting the film's subject of distorting the human body to create a ‘Second’.
The over the shoulder, low angle shots all combine to give the impression of a man ill at ease with his surroundings, barely even engaging in a mundane life. So, as an audience we are not surprised that when the ‘Company’ reach out to offer him a second chance at life that he thinks little of leaving everything behind. After all the children have left and his love for his wife has waned.
The lead role is shared by two actors. The pre-transformation Arthur Hamilton is played by John Randolph and following surgery; he is transformed into Tony Wilson, played by Rock Hudson. Both actors do a fine job, Randolph’s dissatisfaction with life is palpable, Hudson’s slow decent into a form of madness, striking.
The central problem, with the character, is that his dissatisfaction with life had created in him a permanent state of ennui. All the hedonism of his new life, with its emphasis on drink, drugs and casual sex, fails to fill the void; they become just another form of consumption, another attempt at escape from himself. In the end Arthur fails because he hates himself and even his mawkish attachment to his former self is a lie he tells to hide the vacuous nature of his soul.
The film is part science fiction, part wish fulfillment. It contains many elements of a standard thriller mashed up with the surreal nature of a nightmare. It’s not always an easy watch, but one worth the time. Along with Kubrick, Frankenheimer heralded in a period of high concept adult science fiction.
Although the film is old, the DVD comes with two excellent full length commentaries. The first is with the director, who talks extensively about the making of the film and a second by film scholar Adrian Martin. Both tracks are interesting and informative.
Kim Newman (20 min, 02 Sec) provides a very good introduction to the film, placing it in the context of Frankenheimer’s other science fiction films. You also get the Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min, 12 sec). Overall it’s a pretty impressive package for a film of this age.
Buy this item online