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SECONDS
Reviewed June 16th, 2002 by David Nusair

 

Seconds, originally released in 1966, was a box office bomb during its original theatrical run. But itís built up a cult following over the years, and is considered by many to be a superior thriller. Having finally seen it, all I can say is: Huh?

As the movie opens, we meet a bored businessman (played by John Randolph) with an average life. His daughter rarely calls, his wife lives her own life, and heís got a dull (but secure) job at a bank. One day, though, he receives a mysterious phone call from an old friend he assumed was dead. After being handed an address on the way to work, he decides to check it out. The address is just a front, and heís finally lead to his real destination Ė an office building of some kind. After being showed into an empty office and drinking the tea he was offered, he finds himself becoming drowsy and falls asleep. When he wakes, he discovers why heís been brought to this place. Turns out itís a company that offers unwilling men the chance to fake their own death and start their life anew, complete with an entirely new body (surgically altered, of course). He really doesnít have a choice in the matter, given that heís being blackmailed into proceeding (he didnít actually fall asleep before, you see). So, he signs the contract and begins the process Ė which turns him into Rock Hudson and offers him the chance to pursue his childhood dream of being an artist. But he soon determines that this second chance comes with a priceÖ

Itís easy enough to see why Seconds has become a cult classic Ė itís got a Twilight Zone-ish premise with an ending thatís far more terrifying than the rest of the movie would indicate Ė but itís also rife with Ď60s excess and over-the-top direction by the usually restrained John Frankenheimer. Shot using stark black and white photography, thereís no denying the film looks great. The opening credits sequence, done by the legendary Saul Bass, provide a confusing (but thoroughly ominous) introduction to the film. Frankenheimerís early choices in presenting the life of this boring (and bored) man are effective, providing us with a fly-on-the-wall sort of look at his life. But later sequences, especially a visit to a nudist grape-stomping event, are filmed with just the sort of disastrous directorial choices that have sunk many a Ď60s film (Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, to name the two most prominent victims of this).

Still, the movie does rebound with that shocker of an ending, and the performances are good. Hudson, in particular, seems to be having a lot of fun playing this disenfranchised schlub. But the movie is doomed to remain a Ď60s curiosity, due to the incredibly dated look of the whole thing.

Audio: Seconds is presented 2-channel mono, and it gets the job done. Obviously, the whole thing remains stuck in the center channel, but it never sounds muffled. This is probably as good as Seconds is going to get, without a remix.

Video: This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is good, but not great. Though DVD-related artifacts are minimal, the print used was not cleaned up too thoroughly. Specks and those reel change things pop up every now and then. But otherwise, the stunning black and white photography looks good here.

Extras: The only real extra here is a commentary track featuring director Frankenheimer. If youíve heard him speak before, you know that this is a good track. He never stops talking, and he always points out something interesting or divulges neat tidbits. A great track. The only other extra is a trailer.

Conclusion: For curiosities sake, Seconds may be worth checking out.

 

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