A box-office failure at the time, "Seconds" has over the decades matured into a powerful and moving film about living without the benefit of one's past. At least that's how director John Frankenheimer explains the film's basic theme, through a literate screenplay by playwright Lewis John Carlino (from David Ely's novel), a powerful supporting cast of character actors (many of them formerly blacklisted), and Rock Hudson's Oscar-nominated performance as a middle-aged man transformed into a virile, attractive, 'free spirit.'
Frankenheimer's highly informative commentary track (which happily contains very few pauses) was ported over from the original laserdisc release of the director's European cut. (The prime difference lay in the editing of a bawdy bacchanalia, in which Malibu hippies don their birthday suits and frolic amid many mushed grapes.) Explaining many key production details, Frankenheimer persistently returns to the immense contributions of veteran ace cinematographer, James Wong Howe, though it's pretty clear "Seconds" overall look - a daring mix of widescreen close-ups, extended takes and high contrast compositions - came from a unique collaboration between director and cinematographer.
Paramount's anamorphic transfer embraces Howe's extraordinarily detailed black and white lensing, and the fine details in every deep focus shot retain their gray levels without any artifacting. Most of the film's dialogue was re-recorded after filming, and the clean audio track is a perfect marriage with the visuals, forcing the audience to concentrate on every word, somber pause, or absorb Jerry Goldsmith's dissonant and often mournful music score. Though recorded in mono, the final mix magnifies the film's powerful emotions and cruel ironies, leaving the viewer with a forceful wallop long after the end credits have rolled.
Hudson would somewhat revisit the themes of youth and moral lapses in science in the clunky sci-fi drama Embryo [M] (1976).
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan
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