• Seconds

    Released by: Eureka Entertainment
    Released on: October 26, 2015
    Director: John Frankenheimer
    Cast: Rock Hudson, Will Geer, Frank Campanella, John Randolph, Murray Hamilton, Jeff Corey
    Year: 1966

    The Movie:

    Aging banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is bored and depressed. Though monetarily successful, he has fallen out of love with his wife and rarely speaks to his adult daughter. One day, he receives a phone call from Charlie Evans (Murray Hamilton), a friend he had long thought dead. Charlie has a surprising if somewhat Mephistophelean offer: join The Company and be given a new life in a new, younger body. Hamilton agrees and is transplanted not only into a new body but also a new identity, that of Antiochus Wilson (Rock Hudson) in a new world, California, U.S.A. The only problem is that he finds his younger, more carefree life more oppressive than he had assumed it would be. After a failed attempt at romance with Nora Marcus (Salome Jens), he seeks out the life he once had, but The Company has different plans for him.

    Seconds, which was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2015, hails from director John Frankenheimer’s most experimental and successfully aesthetic period, which included such critical darlings as Birdman of Alcatraz and The Manchurian Candidate. Based on a short novel by David Ely, Seconds is a brooding mixture of horror and science fiction and has the feel of a Twilight Zone episode elongated to feature length, though with the addition of strongly adult material. It’s dark, somber, and pessimistic, a clear reflection of the Cold War period from which it emerged, with stunning direction by Frankenheimer and stark, uncompromising cinematography by James Wong Howe (who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the film). Frequent Hitchcock collaborator Saul Bass created the opening titles, starting the film on a psychedelic note.

    Yet, none of this would have mattered had the central performances miscarried. In fact, Hudson and Randolph spent much time together before shooting, studying each other’s movements and vocal inflections in an effort to realistically portray the same man in different bodies. It was time well spent. Hudson channels Randolph (and vice versa), creating a primary performance that is as nuanced as it is obvious. (Hudson was left-handed while Randolph was right-handed, so be sure to watch which hand each actor uses in the final film.)

    Unfortunately, Seconds failed at the box office. Critics at the time didn’t much take to it, though the film has undergone a reassessment in recent years, thanks to its ready availability on home video and pay cable television. It hasn’t hurt any that scenes once cut for their sexual liberty have since been restored. Seconds is a triumph, a literary and cinematic assault that never falters, despite its bizarre plot and paranoid vision.


    Eureka Entertainment has released Seconds as part of its Masters of Cinema series in a dual-format (Blu-ray and DVD) edition. The Blu-ray features an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high resolution, offering the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.75:1. A 50GB disc (locked to Region B) has been utilized to reduce compression, and it works. Obviously taken from the same transfer used for Criterion’s U.S. BD release, Seconds looks fantastic, thanks to a pleasing and organic image wherein grain is natural and filmic, perfectly laying the foundation for the sharp and detailed black and white photography. This is a dark film, so one would expect moments of crush, yet daylight and nighttime shots and hazily lit exteriors and darkly lit interiors betray an amazing depth of field. Black levels are deep and satisfying, allowing Howe’s cold, clinical, and chilling camerawork to be fully realized. A look at the screen caps below will reveal just how strong and beautiful the contrast is. Images retain the clarity inherent in a theatrical experience, with patterns in clothing, foamy seas and pebbled beaches, and the wrinkles of elderly men’s faces ever present, enriching the viewing pleasure and better reflecting the cynical and gloomy tone of Frankenheimer’s tale.

    Eureka has used LPCM mono audio for the film’s primary track. It’s clear and consistent, with no distortion, fuzz, or other issues. Music and dialogue are well modulated, with neither overpowering the other, and dialogue is always discernible. Optional British English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included, as are two commentary tracks: one provided by director Frankenheimer (first recorded for Paramount’s 1997 DVD release), the other by film historian Adrian Martin.

    Frankenheimer includes a host of details that few others would have known, from the fact that he had to dupe spectators during the opening scenes shot at Grand Central Station to how some shots were filmed and why. He also clarifies a misconception about the film: Howe did not faint during the shooting of the operation—other camera operators did—resulting in Frankenheimer having to hold the second camera during the shoot. There are frequent minor pauses in which the director doesn’t speak, during which the film’s audio is raised to fill the gaps. Regardless, it’s a terrific commentary, with some fun (and fascinating) anecdotes.

    Adrian Martin’s commentary has been recorded exclusively for Eureka’s release. Rather than being an anecdotal commentary, it focuses on a reading of the film and its socio-historical reflections and impact. Martin reveals interesting subtexts and symbolisms and how Frankenheimer and his writers tie them all together into a satisfying and cohesive whole. There are no gaps that need to be filled, and the commentary is never dull, particularly for anyone interested in the more academic aspects of cinematic storytelling.

    Next up is a 20-minute interview with Kim Newman, who briefly discusses Frankenheimer’s “paranoia trilogy” before focusing in on Seconds. As usual, Newman is gregarious, thoughtful, and insightful, and his ideas and knowledge of the film offers viewers a unique perspective on a Cold War classic.

    The film’s original trailer, which runs two minutes and twelve seconds, is also included. Interestingly, it makes much of the wine festival, which was heavily truncated for the film’s theatrical release.

    Rounding out the list of extras is a booklet containing liner notes and essays by film critics David Cairns and Mike Suttons.

    The Final Word:

    For over three decades, Seconds remained an unjustly forgotten film, a footnote in the career of a sometimes-brilliant director, but its recent reassessment by film critics and historians has been a welcome one. A classic of dark paranoid fantasy that straddles the uneasy line between horror and ‘real-world’ science fiction, it sits alongside The Manchurian Candidate as one of Frankenheimer’s most challenging accomplishments. Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series has given the film the attention it so richly deserves, offering a beautifully realized visual and aural treat for viewers so inclined to revisit a world where nothing is what it seems.

    Christopher D. Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s) is currently available from Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Nice review. This is one of my favorite films. I'll double dip just for the extras.