Seconds: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

July 30, 2013 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

It’s the sixties and some films still choose to live the black and white lifestyle in a decade full of color. One such filmmaker had good luck with that approach through the majority of thrillers he made in this decade such as The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days In May. This particular filmmaker is the late John Frankenheimer and in this instance of the sixties, he introduces a tale of change, consequence and results and this is all done in a matter of Seconds.

Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is going through his normal daily travel routine when a mysterious man hands him a slip of paper with an address and a name. But why? He lives a modest lifestyle, he’s married, and he has a decent job at a bank. Around this time, his wife has been hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night for the last few days. Where does it lead to? It leads Arthur to a secret pathway to another life. For a chance to look young, fit and handsome and a new name. But when the result leads to a bit of homesickness, Arthur, renamed Tony,(Rock Hudson) in his youthful state wants to piece together the life he once had, but trying to do so carries it’s own stipulations.

It had been a task in itself to try to describe this unique film. Nevertheless, it is another intriguing chapter in the directorial career of John Frankenheimer. With the help of DP James Wong Howe, Seconds carries a style that is all it’s own that is thrilling, patient and at times creepy.

Rock Hudson had been quoted as saying that of all the films he had done, this was one of the few he was the proudest. And why not? He gives an amazing performance as Arthur/Tony, a man who has made a choice and lives to see the consequences and the advantages of that choice. He’s taken into many paths but the one he cannot forget is the one he may never return to.

This is another example of a film that did next to nothing at the box office when the picture was released and that played today is a much better film than when received then. It’s great to see the variety of character actors in this film whether it’s John Randolph as the older Arthur or Will Geer from the Waltons or Jeff Corey or even Murray Hamilton who some of you might remember as the mayor in Jaws and from one of the first Twilight Zone episodes.

Special note should be taken of both the creepy score of Jerry Goldsmith which was a great warmup for his journey to the Planet of the Apes as well as Saul Bass who gives another great title sequence all it’s own. (Outtakes of this sequence were used for the title sequence of a thriller 25 years later, Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear)

With the great look, the outstanding performances and the somewhat casual pace, the moral is be careful what choices you make, because the choices may make you in Seconds.

Video: How does it look?

Presented in a rather unconventional aspect ratio of 1.75:1, Seconds looks particularly outstanding having benefitted from a new 4K High Resolution scan.  Criterion has outdone themselves once again and this black and white film truly shows off how amazing a movie can look.  Detail has been vastly improved and though a fine layer of grain is present, it works with the movie.  We see the pores on Hudson’s face, the grain and texture of the sand and even the fibers in the shroud.  The absence of any specs, dirt or anything else that might detract from this film shows us how amazing a film of this age can look.

Audio: How does it sound?

While the LPCM 1.0 audio only occupies one channel, it’s a pretty amazing-sounding channel.  Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score sounds amazing and if the name rings a bell, it’s because he went onto become one of the most recognized names in movie scores. The audio lacks any pops or hisses that might be associated with a film of this age and while not on par with some of the newer films, there’s something to be said for the purity of this track.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The standard DVD put out by Paramount several years ago only contained a commentary track (itself left over from the LaserDisc) and thankfully that has found its way onto this Blu-ray. However Criterion has raised the bar by including a number of new supplements, so let’s dive in.  “Alec Baldwin on Seconds” is just that, we get the actor’s thoughts on Frankenheimer a well as a little bio on the late director.  “A Second Look” is a new documentary as Evans Frankenheimer (John’s widow) and actress Salome Jens discuss the film and the varied history of it.  We learn that Frankenheimer’s original choice for the lead was not Rock Hudson, but rather Sir Lawrence Oliver!  “Palmer and Pomerance on Seconds” is a short piece by critics R. Barton Palmer and Murry Pomerance as they give their input on the film.  We get some archived footage in a short video interview with John Frankenheimer that was originally shown on Canadian television in the early 70’s.  “Hollywood on the Hudson” takes some footage from a WNBC special shot in Scarsdale, New York (editor’s note: I used to live in Scarsdale…small world) and an interview with Hudson and his role in the film. Lastly we get a booklet with an essay by film scholar David Sterritt.

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