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John Frankenheimer
Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer,
Writing Credits:
Lewis John Carlino, David Ely (based on the novel by)

What Are Seconds? ... The Answer May Be Too Terrifying For Words!

Rock Hudson is a revelation in this sinister, science-fiction-inflected dispatch from the fractured 1960s. Seconds, directed by John Frankenheimer, concerns a middle-aged businessman dissatisfied with his suburban existence, who elects to undergo a strange and elaborate procedure that will grant him a new life. Starting over in America, however, is not as easy as it sounds. This paranoiac symphony of canted camera angles (courtesy of famed cinematographer James Wong Howe), fragmented editing, and layered sound design is a remarkably risk-taking Hollywood film that ranks high on the list of its legendary director’s major achievements.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 107 minutes
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/13/2013

• Audio Commentary with Director John Frankenheimer
• “Alec Baldwin on Seconds” Featurette
• “A Second Look” Featurette
• “Palmer and Pomerance on Seconds” Featurette
• Archival Footage

• 20-Page Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Seconds: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1966)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 7, 2013)

Director John Frankenheimer put out two films in 1966. When I watched Grand Prix in 2011, I thought its racing scenes entertained but the rest of the flick dragged. Given that Seconds - Frankenheimer’s other 1966 release – sounded like it had more in common with his 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate, I went into it with hopes it’d offer a winner.

Wealthy Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) leads a life that seems increasingly dull to him. He discovers an organization called “The Company” that offers a chance at a new existence – literally. For a substantial fee, The Company whisks away rich folks and provides fresh starts via new identities and plastic surgery.

Eager for some excitement, Hamilton accepts this option and turns into “Tony Wilson” (Rock Hudson), a handsome artist with a nice house in Malibu. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, this change comes with repercussions that Hamilton/Wilson will need to confront.

Even as loose as I kept that synopsis, I suspect viewers who go into Seconds totally blind will get the most from it. The film does virtually nothing to telegraph where it goes, so it unspools at a slow, deliberate pace that adds to the potential suspense. We don’t get a formal introduction to The Company – and Hamilton’s options – until more than one-fourth of the way into the tale.

That portion of the movie works the best, as even with its vagueness, Seconds creates a sense of intrigue. I like that it doesn’t rush its narrative and allows us to get to know Hamilton before he makes his transformation.

Unfortunately, once we get past the surprise that comes with the change from Hamilton to Wilson, the movie grinds to a halt for an extended period. As we follow Wilson in California, the movie turns awfully self-indulgent, as it rambles on for what feels like an eternity. For example, a “revelry” scene threatens to go on forever.

Granted, I understand some of this. We need to view that Hamilton’s new life as Wilson lacks much substance/satisfaction because that prompts events in the third act. However, the lack of focus badly dates the movie – there’s no way these scenes could’ve played any time other than in the 1960s – and threatens to lose the viewer.

The third act redeems things somewhat, but not enough to bring the viewer back to the film. Seconds becomes more philosophical as it goes, with hints at spiritual and religious topics. These add some depth but not enough to overcome the issues found in that problematic second act.

Hudson’s presence as the lead doesn’t help. From what I understand, the filmmakers preferred other options but the studio wanted Hudson as a box office draw. That’s unfortunate, as he lacked the chops to pull off the parts complexities. In Hudson’s hands, Wilson fails to show any of the necessary emotion or depth; he plays everything in a superficial manner that harms the film.

Seconds gets points for ambition, and we can see its influence in plenty of subsequent flicks over the years; among others, its impact on 1997’s The Game remains clear. Unfortunately, Seconds itself only sporadically succeeds. It shows much promise but only becomes worthwhile in spots.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Seconds appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.77:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was an appealing presentation.

Overall definition was very good. Occasional softness appeared but seemed to result from various photography techniques, not due to issues with the transfer. Those moments remained mild infrequent anyway, so that caused no real distractions. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to occur, and I noticed no signs of edge haloes.

With a solid layer of grain, I didn’t suspect any problematic noise reduction techniques, and print flaws failed to mar the image. Blacks looked dark and deep, and low-light shots displayed nice clarity and opacity. This ended up as a consistently strong rendition of the film.

I also found no reason to complain about the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Seconds, as it remained satisfying for its age. Some iffy looping occasionally marred the dialogue, but the lines usually appeared concise and integrated fine with the action.

Music tended to be peppy and full, as the track reproduced the score well. Effects also seemed pretty good; they didn’t have a ton to do in this character piece, but they remained accurate and distinctive enough. Nothing problematic occurred during this generally good track.

When we shift to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director John Frankenheimer. Recorded in 1997, he gives us a running, screen-specific look at the opening credits, cinematography and visual design, sets and locations, editing and music, cast and performances, script issues, and a few other areas.

At times, Frankenheimer gives us good information, and we find some fun stories. For instance, he tells us how he got crowds to leave the crew alone when they filmed at Grand Central Station. However, Frankenheimer spends too much time on technical issues - the track becomes a love letter to DP James Wong Howe - and also comes with too many dead spots. There's enough meat to merit a listen, but it's an inconsistent track.

Under Alec Baldwin on Seconds, we get a 14-minute, 21-second appreciation from the actor. He talks about Frankenheimer as well as an appreciation for Seconds. Baldwin mixes those sides well and delivers an enjoyable collection of thoughts.

The 18-minute, 37-second A Second Look includes notes from Frankenheimer’s widow Evans and actor Salome Jens. They chat about characters and story, cast and performances, photography, and some other aspects of the film. Evans Frankenheimer mostly just reiterates notes her husband provided in the commentary, but Jens delivers a lot of fresh material. She helps make this a worthwhile show.

Next comes a “visual essay” called Palmer and Pomerance on Seconds. In this 12-minute, 38-second piece, film scholars R. Barton Palmer and Murrary Pomerance cover Frankenheimer’s work and themes as well as analysis of Seconds. Some interesting information appears, but the stilted delivery makes this a program that doesn’t really engage.

Within Archival Footage domain, we get two elements. “John Frankenheimer” lasts 10 minutes, 26 seconds and provides a 1971 Canadian TV interview with the director, while “Hollywood on the Hudson” goes for four minutes, 18 seconds and delivers a short clip from a WNBC news program. Both are good, though I probably like “Hudson” more since it gives us glimpses of the shoot.

Finally, the package features a 20-page booklet. This mixes photos and credits with an essay by film professor David Sterritt. It provides a nice complement to the set.

While I admire its ambition and respect its influence, as a film, I can’t say Seconds does a lot for me. It meanders too much and lacks a good lead performance from its star. The Blu-ray delivers solid picture and audio along with an informative set of supplements. While I’m not wild about the movie, this release presents it well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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