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Grim Sci-Fi

Plot Overview

lips Seconds opens with titles scrolling over distorted, stylized, closeups of a face under­going plastic surgery, focused [?] in turn on: eye, mouth, ear, horizontal face, nose, and eye; followed at last by a full bandage face mask. Next we follow a middle-age man Arthur Hamilton as he's sweating from exertion, being crowded along a train con­course. There might be some­thing philos­ophical meant by opening on the five senses, as author Baine Kerr has questioned, “Kant thought perception was reality, right?” (182). Suppose through science (surgery) a middle-age man can be given a complete make­over—name, past, physical appearance—so that the person he sees in the mirror, and who is reflected by society and his sur­roun­dings, is not the same one he used to be? Arthur Hamilton (John Ran­dolph) is about to become Antiochus ‘Tony’ Wilson (Rock Hudson).

Arthur has been pressured on the phone by his supposedly dead friend Charlie Evans (Murray Hamilton) to check out a new procedure. He goes to the listed address, of a tailor shop where a man is seen operating a steam press, but he's trans­ported in a meat wagon—of "Honest Arnie the Used Cow Dealer"—to the “Company's” HQ. I don't mean to sound pessi­mistic, but this does not portend a good ending. If, say, your suit gets wrinkled, you can get it pressed, OR it can be recycled, donated to charity to clothe the homeless. I think it might be a good idea to check out the rep. of a hospital before going in for experimental surgery, don't you? What kind of follow-up do they have? In a scene prior to his operation, we see Arthur the bank official turning down a loan approval until the applicant acquires more personal equity. Does Arthur him­self have enough internal fortitude to see his remake through until the end?


Since “Seconds” uses the phraseology of “born again” (“Rebirth is painful”), we might want to consider a familiar Bible passage: (Luke 14:25–33)

And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, ‘If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he can­not be my disciple. And who­soever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, can­not be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish”. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, who­soever he be of you that for­saketh not all that he hath, he can­not be my disciple.’

Arthur in fact had to forsake his wife, grown kids, former friends, former occupation, every­thing, to embark on his new life as Tony. How does he do? Some­body once passed around at the office a mock employee evaluation. Under Communication skills it had the following ratings:

  1. Excellent. Talks to God
  2. Good. Talks to angels
  3. Average. Talks to himself
  4. Substandard. Argues with himself
  5. Unacceptable. Loses those arguments

Let's see how Tony rates: As an initiation into his swinging lifestyle, a young woman Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) leads him to a Bacchanalia in the forest where the revelers consume newly fermented wine. These were real devotees used in the movie, not some extras. Tony, how­ever, seems unable to tune in to the wine god Bacchus, so he misses out on an A.

At one point a Company chaplain talks to him about life and death. The man of the cloth is ordained as a minister, rabbi, and priest. He knows the Old Testament (Tanakh), the New Testament, and Greek, and he quotes them liberally. Tony just groans. He can't talk to the minister, the messenger, the angel. No B for Tony.

Talking to himself he's better at. He pauses many times while giving his secretary dictation to hold private conversations with himself. We'd give him a C except his ex-wife reveals that by his continual pacing at night, he's a man severely conflicted, arguing with him­self as it were. It all comes to a head at a party where bel­liger­ently drunk the man provokes a donny­brook, seeming to be two men in one, Arthur and Tony, arguing with each other, and guess who loses?

In the Christian sphere, Jesus had this to say, (Luke 14:34–35) “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, where­with shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dung­hill: but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Tony was the doctor's “best work,” but if he can't make it as Tony, his options are severely limited.

Production Values

“Seconds” (1966) was directed by John Frankenheimer. Its screenplay was written by Lewis John Carlino, based on David Ely's novel, Seconds. It stars Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Salome Jensall, and Will Geer, putting in excel­lent per­for­mances. Rock Hudson demonstrated an actor's ability to perform out of type. Unfortunately, though, his fans didn't want to see him in such a dramatic role, and drama aficio­nados didn't want to see it played by Rock Hudson, so the movie didn't capitalize on his talent.

The soundtrack using Jerry Goldsmith's score was perfect for this picture, and I especially liked “That Old Black Magic” (1942) played at the party. The Criterion Collection bass was heavy in places rattling the speakers. The plastic surgery shown during the opening credits was that of an actual nose job—six members of the crew fainted filming it. This movie became a cult film after ten years. A fish-eye lens though distortive lends an apt surreal quality to the land­scape. The eerie black and white photography would be worthy of film noir. James Wong Howe's cinema­tog­raphy is quite powerful.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

Many years ago while undergoing my own mid-life crisis, I had unsuspectingly checked out the Seconds novel from the library. I found it so troubling I had to set it down while I took stock. The movie was also troubling, but it moves a lot faster than the book, and I was prepared in advance, so I got through it in one sitting. This one is as creepy as a Hitch­cock film if not more so. If you don't mind being scared and if you can forego a happy ending, it can serve as a dire warning to look before you leap. Pleasant dreams.


Action factor: Decent action scenes

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age

Special effects: Well done special effects

Viewing Format DVD

Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day

Suspense: Don't watch this movie alone

Overall product rating: Four stars out of Five

Works Cited

Scripture taken from The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. KJV Pub. 1611, rev. 1769, 2005, 2011. Software, print.

Kerr, Baine. Wrongful Death. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Print.