Arthur (John Randolph) is a mild-mannered, middle-aged bank employee. His life is in a rut. He's grown complacent to the fact that his marriage has grown emotionally cold - "we get along ..." - and his grown-up daughter rarely visits home anymore.
When he begins receiving telephone calls from a friend believed to have died a year earlier, Arthur is initially reluctant to meet. However, curiosity finally gets the better of him and, without wife Emily's (Frances Reid) knowledge, he sets out to rendezvous with his formerly deceased pal.
Led through various red herrings, Arthur is finally ushered through to the backroom offices of a meat factory - where he's greeted by a sharp-suited man who reveals the truth about his friend's "death" ... and offers Arthur the same.
For a fee of $30,000.00, he's told, this mysterious firm can fake his death, put him through surgery to completely transform his appearance (including fingerprints and dentures) and set him up with a new chance in life. They can even give him a choice of profession; Arthur, for example, has always dreamed of being a painter...
Reticent to begin with, Arthur is soon persuaded that a second chance of life will benefit him and Emily - who he's convinced will be happier with a life insurance policy payout than continued existence with an emotionally detached husband. Of course, a spot of underhand bribery by the shady corporation influences Arthur's decision too.
Following surgery, the bandages are removed from Arthur's face and his new identity is revealed to him: Tony (Rock Hudson). Once he's regained his physical strength post-operation and learned how to speak, behave etc, he couldn't be happier. He's ruggedly handsome, athletic in build, confident, popular ... everything he wasn't in his previous life. Furthermore, the firm stay true to their claim and furnish him with a house in Malibu, a loyal servant and a reputation as a noted artist.
But, gradually, Tony lives to learn that this new, seemingly perfect restart in life comes with a heavy price to pay...
Released in 1966, John Frankenheimer's SECONDS is a startlingly downbeat, realistic and surprisingly contemporary film. The black-and-white cinematography works with some wonderful compositions and innovative - for their time - camerawork to create a luscious visual approach, which is more than met on a dramatic scale by Lewis John Carlino's cerebral, provocative screenplay.
Not being familiar with David Ely's source novel I'm unable to say how close this film sticks to it, but I can imagine the book is rife with subtext: the movie successfully insinuates references to the McCarthy witch hunts, the notion that the whole thing may be a metaphor for closet homosexuality (Hudson was a sex symbol at the time and only "came out" many years later), and of course, the concept of the midlife crisis.
There are also some bold moves being made here. For a start, star Hudson doesn't even feature until approximately 35 minutes into the film. Nudity and surgery gore, though tame by today's standards, must've been quite shocking in their day I'd imagine, while the deliciously dark denouement still disturbs now.
Hudson has never been better, really showing that he can act with the best of them here. He's ably supported by the permanently perspiring Randolph, Jeff Corey as the corporation chairman with a fine balance between sinister and sincere, and future TV regular Richard Anderson ("The Six Million Dollar Man", etc) as the surgeon who beams with pride over his finest work - Tony.
Merging political allegory with sci-fi paranoia, horror tropes and a heart-tugging message which ultimately warns viewers to appreciate what they have, SECONDS is not only intelligent and affecting but also qualifies as a highly engaging, tense drama.
It is rightfully regarded as a classic of American cinema.
Eureka! have released this excellent film onto UK blu-ray and DVD (a 2-disc dual format release) as part of their esteemed "Masters of Cinema" series – spine number 122. We were sent a copy of the region B-locked, 50gb dual-layer blu-ray disc for review purposes.
The film is presented uncut and in its original 1.75:1 ratio. Naturally, the 1080p transfer is 16x9 enhanced. A healthy average bit rate of 35 megabytes per second ensures that this MPEG4-AVC encoded file is big enough to avoid compression issues of any kind.
In fact, the presentation – a 2k restoration struck from the original negative - is stunning. Deep blacks and bright, natural lighter shades allow for profound contrast, while clarity is pin-sharp and clean throughout. A light layer of authentic grain keeps things suitably filmic, while the depth and texture of images on offer is little short of staggering. For a film of 50 years in age, this makes for an exemplary presentation.
Also outstanding is the clear, clean and problem-free 1.0 lossless English mono audio track provided. It handles channel separation extremely well and offers a fine balance between easily audible dialogue and stirring score. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page.
From there, a fine array bonus features begin with two audio commentary tracks.
The first is from Frankenheimer himself, and was previously available on Paramount’s US DVD from several years back. It remains an excellent listen, the director offering a fluent account of how it was working with Hudson, the various shooting methods employed, the themes being covered by the literate screenplay and the preparation involved in the film’s production design. An easy, valid listen.
Film scholar Adrian Martin proffers a more sober chat track. It’s no less edifying though, as he takes us deeper into the film’s concept and influences (including the climate it was shot in), how it was perceived and its place in Frankenheimer’s career.
Critic Kim Newman delivers a traditionally entertaining 20-minute video appraisal of the film next, linking it more succinctly to McCarthyism and pointing out the interesting casting choices that were made as a direct reference to this influence.
He also takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Frankenheimer’s career and delves more into the director’s preoccupation of the time with conspiracy theories and paranoia. As ever, this makes for a great accompaniment piece to the main feature.
The film’s original trailer is an enjoyably suspense-filled 2-minute affair.
Last but not least, the set is furnished with an ample and attractive booklet featuring intelligent new essays from film writers David Cairns and Mike Sutton.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Eureka Entertainment|
|see main review|