“Who are SECONDS? The answer is almost too terrifying for words. From the bold, bizarre best-seller. The story of a man who buys for himself a totally new life. A man who lives the age-old dream — If only I could live my life all over again.”
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Synopsis: An unhappy middle-aged banker agrees to a procedure that will fake his death and give him a completely new look and identity – one that comes with its own price.
This is a movie I’ve wanted to see for a long time, but have never been able to catch on TV until now. I have to say it was well worth the wait. Everything about this tightly plotted, leisurely-paced morality-tale is superb; every scene, every line spoken, serves a purpose in relating what is effectively a retelling of the Dr Faustus legend.
The devil takes the form of Will Geer, a seemingly benign old man who carries about him a hint of malevolence that, while never tangible, lurks beneath every word and expression as he persuades the hapless Hamilton to enter into the fatal bargain with nothing more than a (metaphorical) mirror held up to his face. Geer is CEO of an anonymous corporation – a cliched device to depict hell on earth these days, but a fresh idea in those days – that processes selected candidates for ‘rebirth’ – a total overhaul of their appearance and life that requires total severing of all links with their past life.
After an intriguing start during which John Randolph, as the character who will eventually be transformed into Rock Hudson, is enticed into attending a mysterious meeting by a friend he thought to be dead, the pace slows considerably – but to good effect. Rock Hudson gives a career-best performance as the transformed ‘Tony Wilson’, skilfully capturing the increasing sense of isolation and despair his character feels as he comes to realise that he is just as trapped in his new existence as he was in his old.
John Frankenheimer’s direction is perhaps a little erratic in this film; it veers from short, sparse scenes that so effectively describe Wilson’s dissatisfaction to long over-indulgent sequences such as the wine-pressing and cocktail party scenes. Greatly adding to the tense and doom-laden atmosphere of the movie is James Wong Howe’s superlative cinematography.
Despite re-telling a familiar story, it is testimony to the quality of this film that, after more than thirty-five years, it has retained its freshness and power.
(Reviewed 3rd March 2002)