Seconds

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Seconds (1966; dir. John Frankenheimer)
—If this week’s Ryan Reynolds/Ben Kingsley thriller Self/Less can summon or siphon the same blend of visual and intellectual audacity that powered Seconds, then it will be well worth watching. But if Self/Less, well, sucks, then you can always stay up late some night, pour yourself a stiff drink or two, fill your head with comforting lies about the better life you could have led, and let John Frankenheimer’s second-best film bore its way into your brain like a drill.

Seconds is one of the creepier American parables about cheating mortality and getting what you wish for. It concerns a vaguely unhappy middle-aged businessman (John Randolph) who’s given the opportunity to abandon his current life and be “reborn” as a younger, more handsome, and completely unfettered free spirit (Rock Hudson, in one of his strongest, strangest performances). Yet as Saul Bass’ taffy-pull opening titles assert, exaggeration, distortion and elongation dominate the world of Seconds even when everything seems to be going fine. Like many films only much more so, Things Are Not What They Seem: walls, ceilings and floors bend and warp like weather-beaten wood, bedrooms and offices are as big as three-car garages, and every solicitous word of advice carries with it seeds of condescension that makes them sound like threats. But it’s all part of the plan; as Alec Baldwin notes in one of the film’s Criterion extras, “Some movies you gotta be in the mood for. Other movies, they put you in the mood. They take you hostage, in a way.”

Grade: A


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