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1966 - R - 100 (107 1996 re-release) Mins.
Director: John Frankenheimer
Producer: John Frankenheimer and Edward Lewis
Written By: Lewis John Carlino
Starring: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey
Review by: John Ulmer
Rarely are thrillers used as an expression of pure, unadulterated, dreaded fear. Nowadays, most so-called "thrillers" are comprised of cheap shocks mixed with bad special effects. It's a giant cliché, but it's also a true one: They just don't make 'em like they used to anymore.

John Frankenheimer was one of Hollywood's most overlooked directors. He's created a bundle of terrific films, yet Frankenheimer himself has never achieved the coveted worldwide recognition of great mainstream directors such as Spielberg, Lucas, or Kubrick. Frankenheimer worked with some of the best actors of all time, and made some splendid motion pictures, yet he only has a small circle of true die-hard followers.

Recently a reader of mine noticed my review of Frankenheimer's solid thriller "Ronin," with Robert De Niro, and invited me to join his John Frankenheimer Internet Dedication Group. I explained that I don't have enough time to be active in any type of small Internet group, particularly at this time in my life, but the idea that there are some people out there who admire his work as much as I do is always an uplifting thought.

Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966) is one of his best, a deeply disturbing blend of psychological thriller with a hint of paranoia and repression thrown in for good measure. It involves the adventures of an everyman who gets to re-start his life by literally re-shaping his facial attributes. But playing God is going too far, as we soon learn as the film progresses onwards.

In the disturbing opening credits sequence, we meet the man on his way to work. Frankenheimer uses low angles with an occasional close-up to get us into the mind of this man--and it works splendidly. It is a sublime feeling, as rare an effect I've ever seen, and without these camera tricks the effect of the film would be somewhat dulled.

Tired of his routine lifestyle, the man receives a phone call from his old friend--who is supposed to be dead. But his old friend isn't dead, and lets him in on a little secret: His death was faked by a special company that gives you the rare opportunity to start your life over again. They faked his friend's death, gave him a facial makeover, and moved him to a faraway location where he was able to start over from scratch.

After a brief pondering, our character decides to do the same, by leaving his wife behind, faking his death, getting his face altered, and moving far away from his current life.

After it's all said and done, the man transforms himself into a handsomer, stronger, bigger, better Rock Hudson. For a price this entire operation is completed and the man moves out to a beach condo, living life over again with a butler and a girlfriend and money and everything we, as humans, have ever thought was a necessity in life--or things that we couldn't have before but we'd surely wish for if a magical genie appeared out of thin air and granted us a wish or three.

But then the morals kick in. The film's main character doesn't feel content with his surroundings and new lifestyle. He can't forget his past. It keeps catching up with him, and it begins to drive him towards insanity ever so slowly.

From the opening credits to the end, "Seconds" is very strange, and disturbingly demented at a level of psychosis. The photography focuses around a man's face in the beginning. It closes in on his ear, up his nostril, near his pupil. It's very odd and creepy. And then the film opens with some typical John Frankenheimer techniques--as I mentioned before. We see shots of a camera pinned over a man's shoulder. We see him sweating like a pig. We see people rushing about around him in fast motion and the camera focuses on him all the while.

Perhaps the pioneer of the modern-day mystery-paranoia you see today (e.g. "Memento"), "Seconds" is as chillingly effective as it is strangely subdued. And it pioneered more than just distinct tones of character expressions that would later be delved into by such dark artists as Christopher Nolan and David Fincher--this must also be one of the earliest (if not the earliest) mainstream films to show full frontal nudity (in the only scene of the film that gets a bit too prolonged).

Yes, this film was surely far ahead of its time. Even by today's standards this is disturbing and eerie--to fathom that these camera techniques and expressionist feelings were exhibited in 1966 is simply mind-blowing. Frankenheimer was a genius behind the camera--and here's more than ample proof.

"Seconds" creates the deepest and largest sense of paranoia I have experienced in years. It is completely original, strikingly bold with its visuals and feelings, and ultimately an unforgettable motion picture. The movie is odd, and sometimes it's almost too odd to even enjoy as a popcorn picture. This is a movie you really must prepare yourself for. Don't expect a tame film. It's terrifyingly hardcore.

Indeed, something layered beneath the surface of "Seconds" creates a sick sense of nausea in the bottom of your stomach. It's that same feeling I get when I watch, say, the grand finale of "Se7en" and other such motion pictures. But this is the pioneer of all of those films, and--to be quite honest--it's even more disturbing than "Se7en." (Although I enjoy "Se7en" more for what it has to offer on the whole.)

This movie has scarred me. It's a milestone motion picture, filled with dementia and paranoia and odd feelings. It's film evocation at the height of its abilities to master the audience. There's a true artist behind the camera on this film--and perhaps in the years to come his work will become subsequently more popular, and the truth of his excellence will finally be as renowned as Kubrick's or Scorsese's.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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