Director John Frankenheimer’s paranoid masterpiece SECONDS ($30) is very much an atypical film for the mid 1960s. Much like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, SECONDS is a movie that brings to life a story that is on the very edge of possibility. SECONDS is very dark and disturbing, yet it offers its audience no apologies, no explanations and no moral center to latch on to. SECONDS is also a highly stylized film that uses experimental film techniques to heighten the audience’s discomfort while watching the events of the story play out. Famed cinematographer James Wong Howe uses extreme wide-angle lenses; unusual camera angles other camera tricks to visually amplify the movie’s nightmarish qualities.
SECONDS opens with a middle-aged banker named Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), who has been contacted by a presumably dead friend that offers him an opportunity of a lifetime. Hamilton’s friend puts him in contact with a company that offers a highly unusual and highly intriguing service- for a price, this unnamed company provides its clientele brand new lives. After faking his death and turning his assets over to a new identity, the company provides Hamilton with extensive plastic surgery and physical reconditioning, at which time he is "reborn" as a seemingly younger man named Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson).
In his "new life" Tony Wilson is a regarded artist living on the beachfront in California. While his "new life" would seem perfect, Tony has some difficulties making the adjustment, despite the fact that the company is continuously looking over his shoulder and offering "encouragement." To say any more about the plot of SECONDS would be a disservice to anyone who has never seen the film. However, I will mention that SECONDS is both a technically well crafted and a solidly acted film. Through much of his career, Rock Hudson played lightweight parts. However, with SECONDS, Hudson was given the opportunity to do craft a deeper and darker performance, something he does it surprising well. The fine supporting cast of SECONDS also includes Salome Jens, Will Geer, Murray Hamilton, Richard Anderson, Wesley Addy, Jeff Corey and Frances Reid.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made SECONDS available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This presentation is of the restored version of SECONDS that includes the nudity not found in American films from 1966. The quality of the presentation is very good, although SECONDS is not the kind of film that makes for a beautiful transfer. Distortion is inherent in the film’s unique cinematography, so any shot that had fuzzy focus is going to appear soft on video. Also there is quite a bit of noticeable film grain, which is also attributable to the principal photography and is not a flaw in the transfer. The black and white transfer is an accurate rendering of the film’s intended look, and for that, it gets high marks. Depending on the focus of individual shots, the image can be sharp and well detailed. Blacks are usually quite inky and the whites appear stable. Contrast is generally good, with certain sequences appearing quite start, although there are a couple of spots where the contrast appears a bit milky, making the grayscale less distinct. Digital compression artifacts remain well disguised throughout the presentation.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is clean and undistorted. Dialogue is always crisp and completely understandable. SECONDS features an excellent score from composer Jerry Goldsmith, which sounds reasonably good here. Unfortunately, frequency limitations in circa 1966 soundtrack recordings keep one from appreciating Goldsmith’s unnerving music at maximum fidelity. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of extras. Director John Frankenheimer is on hand for a running audio commentary, in which he discusses the technical details of producing a unique film such as SECONDS. A theatrical trailer is also provided on the DVD.
SECONDS is an important motion picture that has been given a solid presentation by the folks at Paramount. If you are a fan of Frankenheimer, Hudson or just a film buff in general, SECONDS is DVD that you will want to check out.
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