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September 01, 2005

Seconds

John Frankenheimer - 1966
Paramount Region 1 DVD

Although John Frankenheimer doesn't say as much in his commentary on the DVD, the title Seconds is appropriate for several members of the supporting cast. The title refers to a group of people who have been contacted by a secret organization, physically transformed, and given a "second chance" at life. The narrative follows drab, anonymous businessman John Randolph who undergoes the opportunity to be mildly bohemian artist Rock Hudson. What I found interesting is that the film represented new opportunities primarily for several actors.

Frankenheimer points out that in addition to Randolph, Will Geer and Jeff Corey who both play key roles were blacklisted. While Geer and Corey had been back onscreen a couple of years prior to Seconds, the film was the catalyst that reactivated Randolph's career. In a small role at a cocktail party, there is an appearance by writer and actor Ned Young, also blacklisted. Frankenheimer's comments make it sound coincidental, which it probably was. Still, it gives the film's title a unitended meaning.

Seconds was intended as a sort of second chance for Rock Hudson. Forty years old, his lengthy contract with Universal at an end, and following a career characterized by light romanctic comedies in the early Sixties, Seconds was to be Hudson's transition to more substantial roles. As it turned out, in spite of some critical acclaim, the film was a major box office failure that ended up hurting Hudson in some ways more than Frankenheimer. Grand Prix, Frankenheimer's next film, was a major success, with Frankenheimer's career hurt more by an exclusive contract with MGM which soon afterwards was going through ownership changes. Hudson was still considered a major star through 1970, but made no other films with the artistic aspirations of Seconds. As Frankenheimer explained, the audience for a film like Seconds was almost mutually exclusive to the kind of audience that usually went to films starring Rock Hudson.

If there is a complaint to be made, one can argue that Frankenheimer's style may seem excessively European. Frankenheimer was the same age as many of the directors of the French Nouvelle Vague and probably was itching to have the same kind of artistic freedom seen in those films. Much praise is directed towards cinematographer James Wong Howe, a sixty-six year old Hollywood veteran. Rightly nominated for an Academy Award, much of the film is shot with hand held cameras. Many of the shots were done with the camera mounted on the actors, or with Howe in a grocery cart.

While I had seen the film once before on cable, I strongly recommend viewing Seconds on DVD. As Frankenheimer points out, the DVD version is his preferred version of the film. The cable version, which is the American release version has a several edited scene of revelers at a grape harvest. The DVD contains nudity which was unacceptable for a commercial American film in 1966. Seconds is a creepy, effective film which still looks good viewed more than once.

Posted by peter at September 1, 2005 07:01 PM