When Halloween rolls around each year, many of us recall scary movies that left an indelible impression in our youth.
One of mine was "Seconds" - a nightmarish creep-fest that I watched on TV as a teen. All alone. At 2:30 in the morning.
That was pre-DVD, when old films were tough to see; my dad had recommended this rare screening and it was so creepy I didn't know whether to thank him or demand an apology.
SOURCE: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
Rock Hudson (pictured in a three-way mirror) plays the reborn and made-over protagonist in “Seconds,” a 1966 sci-fi thriller.
SOURCE: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
The radical surgery undergone by the main character in “Seconds” allows him to start life over again, with new looks, a new voice and even new fingerprints.
Just out on a dandy Criterion DVD, the 1966 sci-fi thriller is part of director John Frankenheimer's "paranoia trilogy," which includes the better-known "Manchurian Candidate" and "Seven Days in May."
The story concerns banker Arthur Hamilton, played by John Randolph. Bored and drifting in middle-class malaise, he's lured in by a company that promises a tantalizing "rebirth": for $30,000, they stage your death, alter you surgically and set up a new existence with ready-made name and life history.
Hamilton emerges from surgery as Tony Wilson, so thoroughly retooled that he's now played by Rock Hudson.
Wilson settles in California with a beachside home and an established artistic career, but he's no happier than before.
As the corporation struggles to control his escalating rebellion, Tony learns that dissatisfied "seconds" like himself are so widespread that the business has a frightening and manipulative policy for unhappy clients who want a third go-round.
"Seconds" - perhaps the most depressing American movie ever made - was photographed in suffocating black-and-white by the legendary James Wong Howe.
Early tracking shots from Hamilton's point of view convey a potent sense of being swept along helplessly by some greater power.
Howe's fish-eye lenses evoke a day-mare quality, particularly in the scene when Hamilton has been drugged (here a vertiginous set was built to exacerbate the curves and distortions).
The lead was originally intended for Laurence Olivier, who would've played both Hamilton and Wilson. But studio moguls, fearing Olivier would not be a sufficient box-office draw, insisted on Hudson - one of the world's most bankable stars, yet not generally known for subtlety and finesse.
This is probably his finest work.
Hudson consistently underplays Wilson as one who can't understand how he wound up at this stultifying dead end. Highlights include the moment he first sees his new self in the mirror, and the late scene when Wilson visits his aging widow, now living alone in quiet, tender desperation.
"Seconds" also features brilliant support from Salome Jens, Murray Hamilton, Richard Anderson and - three stars just emerging from 1950s blacklisting - Randolph, Will Geer and Jeff Corey.
The Corey and Geer characters both work for the corporation but have not used its services, which is a satire on so much American business - feeding on discontentment, draining its customers dry and then tossing them aside.
When the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson caught this film in its original 1966 run, it shattered him so badly that he did not see another theatrical movie for 16 years.
Not sure "Seconds" will have the same effect on you, but you won't soon forget it.