(directed by John Franhenheimer, 1966)
**** (out of 5)
> John Franhenheimer’s strange and fascinating black-and-white sci-fi was an odd duck when it hatched, but through the years it has grown in stature.
> It’s a Twilight Zone kind of story about a man who is given a chance to completely escape from the life he is bored of and the body that is getting old on him, by a mysterious shadow company that fakes the deaths of wealthy clients and fabricates new identities through plastic surgery and expertly forged documents using a deep, and as it turns, nefarious network of underground operatives. Rock Hudson acts up a storm as the reinvented middle-aged malcontent, suddenly placed in the body and persona of a much younger man- getting a second helping of life. He never for a moment forgets that he is playing a man who is not what he appears, because even though the body is new, the old mind persists.
. Freed from the binds of an unhappy marriage, the overtly handsome young man finds himself involved with a wild free spirit in his new, idyllic west coast beach life. James Wong Howe’s crisp, sometimes lurid cinematography is steeped in the feverish zeitgeist of the time, especially during a woozy scene where his liberated new ladylove brings him to a pagan ritual in the woods, full of giddy hippies in warpaint hooting and hollering before stripping off their clothes and hopping into a big barrel to stomp grapes for wine. It’s a bacchanal counterculture debauch that just screams 1966. You can just see the transition in Hudson’s eyes, as the overwhelmed and fearful old man within responds to the lusty mayhem surrounding him, and slowly begins to let go of his true “age” and give-in to the experience.
. Though many of the scenes seem to go on far longer than they should, and are more than a bit over-the-top, SECONDS is an effective exercise in creepy paranoia. It’s a mixed effort to be sure. Time has given it a dated feel. Though often clunky and self-conscious, the film remains singular, interesting and populated with fine character actors like my old friend Will Geer at his absolute creepiest, as a fiendish company rep, his leer oozing with avuncular malevolence in the guise of sympathy and concern. Will was a force to be reckoned with, and I miss him.
(Interesting side note! As a projectionist at the C.I.A. (California Institute of the Arts), I once sat watching these delightfully woozy opening credits, with the man who crafted them- filmmaker Saul Bellow. He was showing a reel of the different credits he had directed through the years, a niche of the business he had settled into with some success- all very creative stuff. We watched the credits to SECONDS together as he dissected how each effect was generated for me. Never had a chance to see the actual film until now. It’s as loopy as the credits suggest!)
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