WTFW: Seconds (1966)

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

WTFW: Seconds (1966)

Seconds is a 1966 American science fiction drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson.  The screenplay by Lewis John Carlino was based on Seconds, a novel by David Ely.  The film was entered into the1966 Cannes Film Festival and released by Paramount Pictures.  The cinematography by James Wong Howe was nominated for an Academy Award.

David Ely was born in Chicago and was educated at the University of North Carolina, Harvard, and Oxford.  He is a former newspaperman and the author of seven novels as well as two collections of short stories.  His novel Seconds was the basis for the 1966 Rock Hudson film of the same title.  He and his wife live on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts.

What would you give up for a second chance?

Antiochus Wilson is completely and utterly bored with his life, until he receives the call that changes everything.  When the voice on the other end of the line promises him excitement, wealth, and happiness, he is more than a little intrigued.

Arriving at a hastily scrawled address, Wilson discovers a mysterious and exclusive organization that offers its clients whole new lives . . . for a price.  The organization arranges for a client's demise or disappearance and outfits each with a new body in which to begin again.  But there's no turning back, and no room for second-guessing.  When Wilson begins to question his new circumstances and pushes some very well-established boundaries a bit too far for the organization's comfort, his second chance may just be his last.


Seconds (1966)

  • Genre: Drama – Horror – Mystery
  • Directed: John Frankenheimer
  • Produced:
    • Edward Lewis 
    • John Frankenheimer
  • Written:
    • David Ely (Novel: “Seconds”) 
    • Lewis John Carlino (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey, Richard Anderson, Murray Hamilton, Karl Swenson, Khigh Dhiegh, Frances Reid, Wesley Addy
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith
  • Cinematography: James Wong Howe
  • Editing:
    • David Newhouse 
    • Ferris Webster
  • Studio:
    • Joel Productions  
    • John Frankenheimer Productions Inc.  
    • Gibraltar Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Paramount Pictures  
    • Lost Films  
    • The Criterion Collection  
    • Lume Filmes  
    • Paramount Home Video
  • Rated:
  • Release Date:
    • May 1966 (Cannes Film Festival) 
    • 5 October 1966 (USA)
  • Running Time: 106 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle-aged man whose life has lost purpose.  He has achieved success in his career, but finds it unfulfilling.  His love for his wife of many years has dwindled.  His only child is married and he seldom sees her.  Through a friend, a man he thought was dead, Hamilton is approached by a secret organization, known simply as the "Company."  The Company's business is helping wealthy people who are unhappy with their lives to disappear and create new lives.

When Hamilton agrees to talk to the Company, he is spirited away to a secret location.  While waiting for his interview he is offered a cup of tea and then falls asleep.  When he wakes, Hamilton is interviewed by Mr. Ruby, who shows him a film in which he appears to have raped a girl.  The film, made while he was unconscious (drugged, in fact), is intended as blackmail to keep Hamilton from revealing the Company's existence to the world.  The Old Man, a seemingly sympathetic individual who appears to be behind the Company, converses with Hamilton over the direction that his life has taken.  Hamilton feels compelled to accept the Company's services—but fears that this coercive scheme foreshadows the unfortunate consequences of doing business with the Company.

Hamilton's death is staged to make it look as if he perished in a hotel fire; a corpse is left at the scene that can be identified as his.  Through extensive plastic surgery and mental and physical conditioning, Hamilton is transformed into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), a man who looks and acts much younger.  He is provided with a new home, a new identity, new friends and a devoted manservant.  The details of his new existence, including diplomas and other evidence of professional accomplishment that appear genuine, suggest that there was once a real Tony Wilson, but what became of him is a mystery.

Hamilton tries to adapt to his new life.  As Tony Wilson, he lives in a beach house in Malibu, California, and enjoys the reputation of a successful artist.  He begins a relationship with a young woman named Nora Marcus and for a time he is happy.  He then finds that the pleasures he denied himself in his "first" life are not exactly what he expected (or wanted).

At a dinner party he hosts for neighbors, Wilson drinks himself into a stupor and begins to babble about his former life as Hamilton.  It turns out that his neighbors are "reborns" like himself, sent to keep an eye on his adjustment.  Nora is actually an agent of the Company and her attentions to Wilson are designed merely to ensure his cooperation with the Company's program.

In violation of Company policy, Wilson, posing as an old friend of Hamilton's, visits his former wife in his new persona.  He learns that his marriage had failed because he was distracted by the pursuit of career and material possessions, the very things in life that others made him believe were important.

Wilson returns to the Company and announces a desire to start again with yet another identity.  The Company offers to accommodate him, but asks if he would first provide the names of some past acquaintances who might like to be "reborn."  He refuses since he now knows of the drawbacks to being "reborn" and also doesn't want to delay the Company's process for giving him a new identity.

While awaiting his reassignment, Wilson encounters Charlie Evans, the friend who had originally recruited him into the Company.  Evans was also "reborn" and likewise could not make a go of his new life.  Together, they speculate on the reason for their failure to adjust, attributing it to the fact that they allowed others, including the Company, to make life choices for them.  As Wilson became a reborn under Evans' pursuit, the Company calls Evans into reassignment, as their policy is that recruiters can be reborn again if they can bring in a new recruit, as with Evans and Wilson.

Wilson refuses to cooperate with the Company to locate potential reborn candidates, which prompts the company to take a drastic measure.  Wilson/Hamilton finds himself suddenly being awakened by the Old Man, who discusses the Company's mission, before suddenly informing Wilson that he is to be taken to surgery to be given his new identity.  But as he is wheeled down the hallway a priest reads him the last rites and he realizes he is going to his death.  Hysterical, Wilson is then strapped down and wheeled into an operating room where he learns that failed reborns are not actually provided with new identities but instead become the cadavers used to fake new clients' deaths.  As he lies drugged and helpless in the operating room, the surgeon who conducted Wilson's reborn operation claims to Wilson that Wilson was his proudest achievement, and apologizes as he reluctantly euthanizes Wilson.

John Frankenheimer directed Seconds just after the period he worked on his most notable films, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Seven Days in May (1964).  These last two films together with Seconds are sometimes known as Frankenheimer's paranoia trilogy.

The "reborns" of the plot are ironically paralleled in a different context—three of the principal actors (Jeff Corey, Will Geer, and John Randolph) were proscribed from Hollywood films during the "Blacklist" years of the 1950s.

Seconds is also known for its connection to American songwriter Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who was strongly affected by the film during sessions for the concept album Smile.  After arriving late to the theater, he appeared to be greeted with the onscreen dialogue, "Come in, Mr. Wilson," believing for some time that the film was directly based on his recent traumatic experiences and intellectual pursuits, going so far as to note that "even the beach was in it, a whole thing about the beach."  Wilson soon after ceased Smile recording sessions for the next several decades.  The movie reportedly frightened him so much that it wouldn't be until 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that he'd ever visit a movie theater again.

The tagline should be “Please take notes.”

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