Seconds (1966 film)

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.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Frankenheimer
Produced byEdward Lewis
Screenplay byLewis John Carlino
Based onSeconds, a novel
by David Ely
StarringRock Hudson
Salome Jens
John Randolph
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byDavid Newhouse
Ferris Webster[1]
Joel Productions
John Frankenheimer Productions
Gibraltar Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 5, 1966 (1966-10-05)
Running time
100 min
107 min (re-release: 1996)
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.75 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

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 has achieved success, but finds it unfulfilling. His love for his wife has dwindled and he seldom sees his only child. Through a friend, Charlie, who he thought was dead, Hamilton is approached by a secret organization, known simply as the "Company",[6] which offers him a new life. He ruminates on the proposition as he rides a commuter train on his way home. His wife meets him as he arrives home, but it is apparent that he is alienated from her.

Hamilton arrives at a meat-packing plant for a meeting. He is given workman overalls and hat, then exits the facility by a different door and is seated inside a truck that takes him 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 (Hudson) through plastic surgery, and a new identity, namely "Antiochus 'Tony' Wilson". He later discovers this identity has been taken from someone who recently died.

He is resettled into a community filled with people like him who are "reborns". Eventually, Hamilton decides the new life is not 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 chosen 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 has brought up will be looked into. Hamilton realizes as he is wheeled into the operating room, before being sedated, that he is to be killed. His body will be 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 brought down: as he loses consciousness, he has a memory of two figures walking along a beach; the image distorts and loses resolution.



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 5 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.
  • 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. A still frame from this sequence was used by the English industrial metal band Godflesh for the cover its 1988 self-titled EP.[9]

Historical context

John Frankenheimer directed Seconds just after the period during which 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]

Seconds became known for its connection to the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. The story, which originated in the October 1967 magazine article "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!",[10] goes that when he arrived late to a theater showing of Seconds, he appeared to be greeted with the onscreen dialogue, "Come in, Mr. Wilson." He was convinced for some time that rival producer Phil Spector (one of the film's investors) was taunting him through the movie, and that it was written about 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."[11][12] He later cancelled the Beach Boys' forthcoming album Smile, and the film reportedly frightened him so much that he did not visit another movie theater until 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[13]

In 1988, a heavily contrasted still image from the film's opening credits was utilised for industrial metal band Godflesh's self-titled debut EP.


Seconds premiered on October 5, 1966. It did poorly on its initial release,[14] but has since become a cult classic.[15][16][17]

A reviewer in Time 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."[18]

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."[19]

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.[20]

Writing in Time Out New York, Andrew Johnston (critic) observed: "Seconds is easily one of the most subversive films ever to have come out of Hollywood: Even as it exposes the folly of selfishly abandoning one's commitments, it also makes a passionate case for following one's heart and rejecting conformity....This chilling portrayal of a well-meaning guy stuck in a Kafkaesque nightmare is unlike anything else he [Hudson] did."[21]


Home video

Seconds was released on home video for the first time in May 1997.[22] Seconds was released on DVD on January 8, 2002,[23] and later went out of print.[24] The Criterion Collection released a newly restored version of the film on DVD and Blu-ray on August 13, 2013.[6]

See also


  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. Sterrit, David (August 13, 2013). "Seconds: Reborn Again". Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  7. American Movie Classics when it presented Seconds during the 1990s.
  8. "Seconds". Retrieved Feb 7, 2019.
  9. Nanos, Darren. "Godflesh – Self-Titled EP (1988)". Just a Visual. Archived from the original on 20 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  10. Dillon, Mark (2012). Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story. ECW Press. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-77090-198-8.
  11. Siegel, Jules (1 November 2011). Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!. Atavist Inc. ISBN 978-0-9834566-7-4.
  12. Priore, Domenic (1 June 1995). Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!. Last Gasp of San Francisco. ISBN 978-0-86719-417-3.
  13. Brian Wilson; Todd Gold (1991). Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-018313-4.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Tenner, Edward (22 August 2013). "A Second Life for Seconds, the 1966 Cult Classic That Made Audiences Sick".
  17. Booker, Keith M. (Mar 17, 2011). "Historical Dictionary of American Cinema". Scarecrow Press. Retrieved Feb 7, 2019 via Google Books.
  18. "Cinema: Identity Crisis", October 14, 1966, Time
  19. Seconds at Rotten Tomatoes
  20. Slavoj Zizek (7 September 2012). The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (Motion picture). Zeitgeist Films.
  21. Johnston, Andrew (May 8–15, 1997). "Better living through surgery". Time Out New York: 144.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  22. 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.
  24. "Oklahoma Gazette". Oklahoma Gazette. Archived from the original on November 19, 2013. Retrieved Feb 7, 2019.
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