John Frankenheimer was one of the more prestigious directors of the 1960s, but his work is rarely revived today, and he generally didn’t have the greatest of luck with movies depicting the fantastic. His later forays into that arena — Prophecy and The Island of Dr. Moreau — were hardly successful on any level. However, with Seconds, Frankenheimer scored a very near bull’s-eye (albeit not in 1966, when the film was released).
Seconds received a harsh reception at film festivals and was afforded only a limited release. Time, however, has turned it into a minor classic, and one of the key films on which Frankenheimer’s reputation rests today. It’s also the film that is most cited as proof that Rock Hudson was a far better actor than is casually assumed.
As with most of Frankenheimer’s better work, the movie is infused with the paranoia of the Cold War (less specifically here than in the more directly political The Manchurian Candidate or Seven Days in May) and has the bleak pessimism of that age in nearly each of its deliberately claustrophobic frames. The basic concept — a faceless corporation known only as “The Company” offers its select clientele the opportunity to be young again with a brand-new life — is admittedly like an extended Twilight Zone episode, even down to its surprise ending. However, the execution of the idea and the film’s unflinching grimness largely overcomes this feel.
The only area where Seconds feels false is in its tepid, sketchy, cliched depiction of the “bohemian” lifestyle that its rejuvenated main character (Hudson) finds so unsatisfying; yet this hardly erases the power of the scenes that precede and follow that section of the film. Never has Oscar Wilde’s caveat about being careful what you wish for been so chillingly portrayed. The film will be introduced by series host and coordinator Peter Loewer.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke