Film Noir Classics: SECONDS

Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle aged banker who has become dissatisfied and lost his way in life. One day he is contacted by an old friend Charlie Evans (Murray Hamilton) he had believed to be dead. Charlie explains that he knows just how he feels and that he can assist him with his problem. The message directs him to “The Company” an organization that helps people restart their lives by giving them brand new personalities.

Hamilton goes to a tailor shop in the city using a code name “Wilson” looking for The Company, but is redirected to…a meat packing plant of all places! He is given some work clothes and led to a truck, put in the back and brought to an undisclosed building. After drinking some tea in the waiting room, he passes out and when he awakes he is interviewed by Mr. Ruby (Jeff Corey) who hungrily devours some chicken wings as he tells him how his old persona will be destroyed. Hamilton is then shown a film of him raping a girl, clearly while he was drugged to persuade him to go through with the procedure. An Old Man (Will Geer) gives him a message from Charlie telling him rebirth is always painful. Hamilton has the operation which transforms him into the younger, more handsome “Tony Wilson” (Rock Hudson) and his old self is reported killed in a hotel fire. One of The Company’s main employees, Davalo (Khigh Dheigh) plays him a recording of himself saying what he’d like to be in his new profession: he chooses painting. Davalo gives Wilson a whole fake backstory and diplomas to show he’s the real deal. To make his new existance even a bit more authentic, Wilson is greeted at the airport by a man who makes a loud scene saying welcome home.

Wilson is brought to his new residence in Malibu California where his butler John (Wesley Addy) shows him around and tries to help him adjust. He soon starts a relationship with a pretty gal named Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) who he meets on the beach one day. Wilson invites some of his new Malibu neighbors to a very wild party but after becoming drunk and out of control, his guests inform him they’re all “reborns” as well and that he needs to get a grip. After time Wilson realizes that the life he lived previously wasn’t as bad as he thought. He makes a visit to his estranged wife (Frances Reid) under the guise of Hamilton’s old friend and finds out the reason their relationship wasn’t healthy was because he was too obsessed with his career overly influenced by those around him. Wilson decides to be reborn yet again after realizing he just had the same experience in his new persona that he did as Hamilton. After comiserating with Charlie Evans who is in the same dilemna, Wilson is given his wish by The Company not realizing where it will lead him the next time.

When Seconds was released in 1966 it wasn’t successful but over the years it’s developed a strong cult following due to its offbeat story and groundbreaking visual stylization. Even though its look is highly original the story contains a concept that was previously explored in the 1947 film noir Dark Passage in which Humphrey Bogart plays a man who has plastic surgery to evade the law. It also has layers of black comedy, psychedelia, science fiction and horror mixed together to create a very unique finished product.

The film was photographed by James Wong Howe (Yankee Doodle Dandy, Sweet Smell of Success, Hud) who was a pioneer of creating new and exciting camera techniques. This production in particular was highly experimental in its use of non traditional framing, extreme close ups and editing patterns. It took ideas from film noir and twisted them into a new kind of late 60s psychedelic mindbending motion picture mutation.

Seconds was part of an unofficial paranoia themed trilogy of films directed by John Frankenheimer, the others being The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964). In another thematic connection three of the actors featured in the films (Jeff Corey, Will Geer, John Randolph) were all blacklisted in the 1950s.


– The house that is provided for Rock Hudson’s character was owned by director John Frankenheimer.

– Before shooting, star Rock Hudson spent time with John Randolph to get his mannerisms down and since he was also taller John Frankenheimer chose specific camera angles for continuity.

– Although this film is nowadays viewed as a cult classic, European critics at the Cannes Film Festival were so hostile to the film that director John Frankenheimer refused to leave nearby Monte Carlo, where he was shooting Grand Prix, for the press conference. Rock Hudson was sent instead and was unable to answer the critical questions during the hostile session.

– Although Rock Hudson is top billing, he appears on screen only after 40 minutes of running time because the character he plays has quite different face and look after being transformed by a physical reconstruction surgery. John Randolph was chosen to play the scenes of the beginning before the physical reconstruction surgery.

– Initially director John Frankenheimer was reluctant to cast Hudson, whom he felt was a lightweight actor in comparison to Laurence Olivier and Kirk Douglas, other actors he wanted for the lead part. It was only after Hudson’s agent convinced him at a party that Hudson could do the role that he went ahead with Hudson. He has later gone on to praise Hudson’s work in the film and felt he was impeccably cast.

– According to John Frankenheimer, it was Hudson’s idea to have two different actors play the Arthur Hamilton/Tony Wilson role, instead of having just one actor play both parts with makeup changes like originally envisioned. Hudson felt that he would be unconvincing as Arthur Hamilton and said he would only do the movie in the Tony Wilson role. Frankenheimer agreed and felt the film was much stronger.

– The opening credits sequence inspired the opening of Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake. Both were designed by artist Saul Bass.



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database and Furious Cinema. Pete is an avid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation and cult films to popular mainstream classics.

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