Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cinematic gems #10: Seconds

John Frankenheimer was one of our best directors, having helmed classics like The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Seven Days in May, Ronin, The Young Savages, and The Birdman of Alcatraz. One of his greatest overlooked triumphs is 1966's Seconds, a fascinating, eerie, depressing mindfuck (and trust me, that term is oh-so-apt here). 

The film follows middle-aged Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), struggling with growing older and the aimlessness of his life, including a loveless marriage. He is offered a new life by "The Company"--who will "kill" him off, change his face, body and identity. Hamilton accepts, and comes back as young and handsome Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson, in his best and most complex performance ever). But as he soon learns, youth comes with a price. A terrible, terrible price.

The look of the film is extraordinary--cinematographer James Wong Howe employs a fish-eye lens, and shoots from extreme angles, creating an uneasy feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia. Jerry Goldsmith's score is jarring and creepy and perfectly accentuates the scene work. Based on the novel by David Ely, this is a Faustian cautionary tale with a killer twist ending that truly pays off. It was a box-office failure upon release, too bleak and hard to take for the masses. It's since found life on video and a much-deserved cult following. Oh--the film is also believed to be the catalyst for the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson's mental breakdown. What more do you need?

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