From Saul Bass’ weird open credits, Seconds is a film that delights in wrong-footing its audience.
Rock Hudson, the nominal star, does not appear until halfway through, as the idealized “movie-star” recreation of the dumpy businessman John Randolph.
Frankenheimer patiently establishes how hollow Randolph’s life is, so a 1966 audience would believe he would subject his body to radical plastic surgery.
But, upon awakening as the chisel-jawed Rock Hudson, replete with an idyllic life among the “beautiful people” he discovers the other side of the fence can be as vacuous and unsettling as his old existence... but with the added threat of The Company watching his every move.
Although several “free love” scenes date the film, the initial Randolph sequence and the memorably nightmarish final act, when Hudson realizes the consequences of his actions, make Seconds a paranoia classic.
Randolph and Hudson both do a fantastic job of essaying the same character from two different perspectives.
Later revelations about Hudson’s real-life sexuality explain why he so authentically portrays a man hiding his true identity, but it is unfortunate he was rarely permitted to test the range he demonstrates here.
John Frankenheimer, an often overlooked 60s firebrand director, boasted other subversive classics such as The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May to his credit.
He shoots Seconds with ugly, disorienting wide-angles and off-kilter close-ups that make even The Company’s waiting room seem a menacing and dangerous trap.
Low key for the most part, Frankenheimer wisely saves visual overload for an uneasy orgy at a vineyard with a horrified Hudson dragged into a mass of writhing limbs, and the unforgettable denouement.
Seconds - which could refer to the inexorable passing of time, or the possibility of “another go” at life - has still to be remade, yet in these image obsessed times of plastic surgery reality TV it seems more vital than ever before.