Seconds (1966 film)

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Seconds poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster for Seconds
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Edward Lewis
Screenplay by Lewis John Carlino
Based on Seconds, a novel
by David Ely
Starring Rock Hudson
Salome Jens
John Randolph
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by David Newhouse
Ferris Webster[1]
Joel Productions
John Frankenheimer Productions
Gibraltar Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • October 5, 1966 (1966-10-05)
Running time
100 min / USA:107 min (re-release: 1996)
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.75 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

Seconds is a 1966 American science fiction drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson. The screenplay by Lewis John Carlino was based on Seconds, a novel by David Ely.[3] The film was entered into the 1966 Cannes Film Festival and released by Paramount Pictures.[4] The cinematography by James Wong Howe was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[5]


Seconds is a mystery dealing with the obsession with eternal youth and a mysterious organization which gives people a second chance in life.

Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle-aged man whose life has lost purpose. He's achieved success, but finds it unfulfilling. His love for his wife has dwindled and he seldom sees his only child. Through a friend, Charlie, he thought was dead, Hamilton is approached by a secret organization, known simply as the "Company"[6] which offers him a new life.

Upon arriving for a meeting, Hamilton arrives at a meat packing plant. He is given workman overalls and hat, then exits the facility out a different door where he is next seated inside the back of a truck which proceeds to another building. He disappears into a large complex filled with dark, empty hallways where he awaits his transformation. The Company gives Hamilton the body of a young man (Rock Hudson) through plastic surgery and a new identity, namely 'Antiochus "Tony" Wilson'. He later discovers this identity has been taken from someone who recently passed on.

He is resettled into a community filled with people like him who are "reborns". Eventually, Hamilton decides the new life isn't what he wants. He contacts the Company, letting them know he wants a different identity and they agree, taking him back to wait for his new identity. There, he meets Charlie, who has also wished to go under yet another "rebirth." Charlie is choosen and walked away from the waiting room. Later during the night, the owner of the Company discusses his original purpose for founding the organization, and assures Hamilton that the issues he's brought up will be looked into. Hamilton learns as he is wheeled into the operating room, before being sedated, that he is to be killed. His body is used as the catalyst (corpse) for a new patient to be reborn. The film ends with the camera panning up to a surgical light as a drill is pushed through his head; two figures walk along a beach.



The director of photography for Seconds was James Wong Howe, who pioneered novel techniques in black-and-white cinematography, and whose career spanned nearly five decades. He was nominated for an Oscar at the 39th Academy Awards for his work on the film. Seconds was Frankenheimer and Howe's last film in black-and-white.

Rock Hudson was five inches taller than his movie counterpart, John Randolph; the difference in their heights was worked around with carefully chosen camera angles. Hudson and Randolph also spent a good deal of time together before production began, allowing Hudson to model Randolph's mannerisms, to resemble him more closely.[7]

In Frankenheimer's commentary on the DVD, he notes:

  • The depiction of Hamilton's plastic surgery includes several shots of an actual rhinoplasty operation. Director John Frankenheimer made several of these shots himself after the cameraman fainted.
  • The DVD includes footage deleted from the American theatrical version depicting nude revelers at a wine festival. Frankenheimer had also intended to restore a scene in which the transformed Hamilton visits his daughter, but the footage could not be found.
  • The scenes in Tony Wilson's Malibu beach house were shot in Frankenheimer's own home.
  • In order to shoot in Grand Central Station without attracting too much attention, Frankenheimer hired a male model and a Playboy bunny to make-out on the stairs while being filmed by a fake crew. This distraction allowed the real crew to shoot with a camera in a suitcase.

The opening titles were designed by Saul Bass,[8] using Helvetica set in white over optically warped black-and-white motion picture photography.

Historical context[edit]

John Frankenheimer directed Seconds just after the period he worked on his most notable films, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Seven Days in May (1964). These last two films together with Seconds are sometimes known as Frankenheimer's paranoia trilogy.[6]

The "reborns"[6] of the plot are paralleled in a different context—three of the principal actors (Jeff Corey, Will Geer, and John Randolph) were proscribed from Hollywood films during the "Blacklist" years of the 1950s.[9]

Seconds is also known for its connection to American songwriter Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who was strongly affected by the film during sessions for the concept album Smile. After arriving late to the theater, he appeared to be greeted with the onscreen dialogue, "Come in, Mr. Wilson," believing for some time that the film was directly based on his recent traumatic experiences and intellectual pursuits, going so far as to note that "even the beach was in it, a whole thing about the beach."[10][11] Wilson soon after ceased Smile recording sessions for the next several decades. The movie reportedly frightened him so much that it wouldn't be until 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that he'd ever visit a movie theater again.[12]


Seconds premiered on October 5, 1966. It did poorly on its initial release,[13] but has since become a cult classic.[14][15][16]

A reviewer in Time magazine commented: "Director John Frankenheimer and Veteran Photographer James Wong Howe manage to give the most improbable doings a look of credible horror. Once Rock appears, though, the spell is shattered, and through no fault of his own. Instead of honestly exploring the ordeal of assuming a second identity, the script subsides for nearly an hour into conventional Hollywood fantasy. [...] Seconds has moments, and that's too bad, in a way. But for its soft and flabby midsection, it might have been one of the trimmest shockers of the year." [17]

Seconds has since gained an overall positive reaction, currently holding a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes' consensus reads: "Featuring dazzling, disorienting cinematography from the great James Wong Howe and a strong lead performance by Rock Hudson, Seconds is a compellingly paranoid take on the legend of Faust."[18]

In the film The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, the psychoanalytical Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek discusses the film as an example of what happens when desires are fulfilled.[19]


Home video[edit]

Seconds was released on home video for the first time in May 1997.[20] Seconds was released on DVD on January 8, 2002,[21] and later went out of print.[22] The Criterion Collection released a newly restored version of the film on DVD and Blu-ray on August 13, 2013.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In John Frankenheimer's commentary, included in the Criterion Collection DVD release, Frankenheimer constantly mentioned Newhouse's contributions, but he never once mentioned Webster's contributions.
  2. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  3. ^ Ely, David (1963). Seconds, a novel. New York: Pantheon Books. OCLC 1291085. 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Seconds". Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  5. ^ Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d Sterrit, David (August 13, 2013). "Seconds: Reborn Again". Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  7. ^ American Movie Classics when it presented Seconds during the 1990s.[vague]
  8. ^
  9. ^ Sisario, Ben (February 28, 2004). "John Randolph, 88, an Actor On Broadway and in the Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-03. Mr. Randolph and his wife were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 but refused to testify. He remained blacklisted from film and television work until the mid-1960's, returning to work in the science-fiction film Seconds in 1966. That film, directed by John Frankenheimer, starred Rock Hudson and also featured Will Greer [sic] and Jeff Corey, who had also been blacklisted. 
  10. ^ Siegel, Jules (1 November 2011). Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!. Atavist Inc. ISBN 978-0-9834566-7-4. 
  11. ^ Priore, Domenic (1 June 1995). Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!. Last Gasp of San Francisco. ISBN 978-0-86719-417-3. 
  12. ^ Brian Wilson; Todd Gold (1991). Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-018313-4. 
  13. ^ O'Connor, John J. (January 8, 1990). "Review/Television; The Life, Death and Secrets of Rock Hudson". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-03. [Hudson] tried a new tack, and had an emotional collapse, filming John Frankenheimer's Seconds, which bombed at the box office. 
  14. ^ Schneider, Steven Jay, ed. (2008). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Quintessence Editions (5th Anniversary/3rd ed.). Hauppauge, New York: Barron's Educational Series. p. 455. ISBN 978-0-7641-6151-3. OCLC 213305397. 
  15. ^ Tenner, Edward (22 August 2013). "A Second Life for Seconds, the 1966 Cult Classic That Made Audiences Sick". 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Cinema: Identity Crisis", October 14, 1966, Time
  18. ^ Seconds at Rotten Tomatoes
  19. ^ Slavoj Zizek (7 September 2012). The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (Motion picture). Zeitgeist Films. 
  20. ^ Nichols, Peter M. (May 9, 1997). "Home Video". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-03. In John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966), released Tuesday for the first time on tape, Rock Hudson is an aging, world-weary banker who gets a youthful remake but at a price. 
  21. ^
  22. ^

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