Seconds is one of the most underrated thrillers of the sixties. Ahead of its time in terms of storytelling and especially camerawork, this is a thought-provoking masterpiece. I know that sometimes these movies may seem outdated but I assure you this one isn’t. The opening scene is proof of that. It’s immersive with innovative camera angles, showing us Grand Central Station through the eyes of an ordinary man. To film it, director John Frankenheimer hired a Playboy bunny, a handsome guy, and a film crew to distract the visitors from the shoot.
We will be following Arthur Hamilton, a depressed middle-aged man who gets a sudden call from a friend he thought was dead. And that call is going to change his life forever. Based on a novel of the same name by David Ely, this is a character study of a man in crisis. A man trying to come to terms with his own mortality and the choices he made. A definition of a mid-life crisis. Seconds is a rather subversive movie, examining our societal contracts with a sharp and rational approach. And the storytelling is very gripping as we’re slowly being fed little bits of information about what’s going on.
Is Arthur’s friend really dead? Who’s running this secretive organization and what the hell is going on here? You want to get to the bottom of this mystery and when you eventually do, you realize that this is just the beginning. The real stuff will hit you later on, once things really kick off. So, be patient and you’ll be greatly rewarded. Rock Hudson gave one hell of a performance showing that he’s not just a pretty face. Opposite of him we have John Randolph as the embodiment of your Average Joe and beautiful Salome Jens.
Arthur Hamilton has it all, a good job, a loving wife, and a beautiful house. However, he’s still quite depressed and just going through the motions. In the middle of this daily rut, someone gives him a piece of paper with an address on it. Then he gets a phone call from a friend who died some time ago. Convinced that this is some sort of a prank, he plays along. Maybe this is exactly the type of distraction he needs in his life to wake him up. So, he goes to the address he was given and this is where things start to get tricky.
I’ll have to agree with the rest of the reviewers and Frankenheimer himself that Seconds is a movie with a gripping first and final, third act but without a proper second one. Now, you can use this time to think about the implication of the story in your own life, as I did. However, even with this flaw, Seconds is a movie definitely worth watching. It might get a bit depressing at times but I rather liked its harsh and realistic approach to these subjects.
I also liked the fact that it’s not shoving conclusions down your throat, it’s just showing events as they unfold. It’s up to you to interpret them, if you want, and to give them meaning if they have any. This means you can watch this movie as an intriguing thriller without much baggage or a harrowing examination of the unbearable lightness of being. I have to mention The Parallax View, a more straightforward thriller featuring a similarly covert organization.
Some scenes made me quite uncomfortable and I started to think why is that. Why did, for example, those scenes during the grape festival feel so unnerving and difficult to watch? They should be a celebration of life but to me, they were just uncomfortably chaotic. And there’s even some full-frontal nudity for fuck’s sake! This movie might even help you find out things about yourself that you didn’t even know were there. It also reminds you that your entire life will feel like it’s gone in seconds once you reach the end of it. So, let’s make them motherfucking count.
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Lewis John Carlino, David Ely
Cast: Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Richard Anderson, Murray Hamilton, Salome Jens, Will Geer
Fun Facts: The hospital scenes feature several shots of actual rhinoplasty. Oddly enough, Frankenheimer himself filmed them as the cameraman fainted because of their graphic nature.