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In John Frankenheimer’s (The Manchurian Candidate) 1966 sci-fi/thriller Seconds, the filmmaker successfully tapped into the fractured American culture and burgeoning fascination of the country with youthfulness to create a timeless treatise on trying to retain that youth at all costs, even if it means losing site of who you really are.
Dissatisfied middle-aged businessman Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) works in Manhattan and lives in Westchester’s elite town of Scarsdale with his compliant wife. It’s the idyllic life from all outward appearances, but Arthur wants something more. He finds a way out of his doldrums when one day he meets a friend whom he thought was dead. From there he is led to a mysterious group known only as The Company. They offer him a way out – a whole new life, with a new body, new face, a new profession. It will take an elaborate surgery, full body modifications, and therapy to recondition him. They also need to come up with a cover story for his “death” and a cadaver to stand in for his dead body. Arthur is convinced, and he comes out on the other end, a younger, fitter version of himself, renamed Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) and with a new life as an artist. He’s set up with a beautiful beach home in California, and meets a young woman (Salome Jens) and starts up an affair. After a night of bacchanalia at a winemaking ceremony and a dinner party at his home with Norma and neighbors from his new neighborhood, Arthur-cum-Tony begins to feel trapped and desperate, however, as soon as he realizes that everyone he is surrounded by are “seconds” just like he is, remade by The Company.
Frankenheimer’s film, taken from the novel by David Ely, was daring for the time, delving into the American psyche like few films before it. It dives into the emptiness of the workday life or the material success of the lords of Wall Street, decades before the word “yuppie” would become common parlance. It is aided along by the often hyperactive cinematography of while James Wong Howe, whose work behind the lens, offers up chaotic, handheld, shaky imagery when the scenes call for that frenzied feel, such as the opening in Grand Central Terminal, or the winemaking ceremony, and at other times becomes angled and still, with stark shadows and beautifully crisp contrasts, not unlike some Hitchcockian thriller.
A stunning new 4K high definition of transfer of Seconds arrives on Blu-ray in an exemplary AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement from the Criterion Collection. Apart from some unavoidable instances of film softness (this is a film from 1966 after all) and the occasional spot of roughness where some obvious effects dupes were used, the image in Seconds is fantastic, with a sharp and thinly layered grain structure, textured detail, and no signs of video noise.
The monaural soundtrack is offered in a surprisingly dynamic and clean LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) track. It provides clean dialogue with little crackle, a good sense of depth and atmosphere, and doesn’t sound too boxy.
This is a wonderfully informative collection of supplements included by the Criterion Collection. The audio commentary, from 1997, is quite obviously from the DVD era, as it has Frankenheimer referencing the “letterboxed” edition being superior to “Pan&Scan”. That aside, it’s an interesting listen, as are the visual essays.
- Audio commentary recorded in 1997 featuring director John Frankenheimer.
- Alec Baldwin on Seconds (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:14:21)
- A Second Look (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:18:37) – This piece about the making of Seconds, produced by the Criterion Collection in 2013, features interviews with director John Frankenheimer’s widow, Evans Frankenheimer, and actor Salome Jens.
- Palmer and Pomerance on Seconds (1.75:1; 1080p/24; 00:12:38) – This visual essay by film scholars R. Barton Palmer and Murray Pomerance was produced for the Criterion Collection in 2013.
- Archival Footage:
- John Frankenheimer (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 00:10:26) – This interview with director John Frankenheimer was originally broadcast on Canadian television in 1971 and was produced in 1971 and was produced by filmmaker Bruce Pittman.
- Hollywood on the Hudson (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:04:18) – This excerpt from a rare WNBC news special was shot on location in Scarsdale, New York, during the filming of Seconds in 1965 and features an interview with star Rock Hudson.
- Booklet featuring an essay by critic David Sterritt, film and crew credits, and information on the transfer.
The Definitive Word
Forty-seven years on, Seconds is still a profoundly moving work, and Rock Hudson’s performance is one of the nest of his career here. Given subsequent revelations about Hudson’s personal life, one could easily begin to read between the lines and apply some subtext to this film, but that would do a great disservice to the greater scope of the themes explored here, and Hudson’s talents. Seconds stands as one of the great thrillers of the 1960s and beyond and arrives in gorgeous Blu-ray rendition from Criterion.
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