Seconds (1966 film)

Last updated
Seconds poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced byEdward Lewis
Screenplay by Lewis John Carlino
Based onSeconds, a novel
by David Ely
Starring Rock Hudson
Salome Jens
John Randolph
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by David Newhouse
Ferris Webster [1]
Joel Productions
John Frankenheimer Productions
Gibraltar Productions
Distributed by Paramount 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]

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.

In film and television, drama is a genre of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular subgenre, such as "police crime drama", "political drama", "legal drama", "historical period drama", "domestic drama", or "comedy-drama". These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.

John Frankenheimer film director

John Michael Frankenheimer was an American film and television director known for social dramas and action/suspense films. Among his credits were Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1965), Seconds (1966), Grand Prix (1966), French Connection II (1975), Black Sunday (1977), and Ronin (1998).

Rock Hudson American actor

Rock Hudson was an American actor, generally known for his turns as a leading man during the 1950s and 1960s. Viewed as a prominent "heartthrob" of the Hollywood Golden Age, he achieved stardom with roles in films such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Giant (1956), for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and found continued success with a string of romantic comedies co-starring Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). After appearing in films including Seconds (1966), Tobruk (1967) and Ice Station Zebra (1968) during the late 1960s, Hudson began a second career in television through the 1970s and 1980s, starring in the popular mystery series McMillan & Wife and the primetime ABC soap opera Dynasty.


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]

Library of Congress (de facto) national library of the United States of America

The Library of Congress (LOC) is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the de facto national library of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The Library is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; it also maintains the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. The Library's functions are overseen by the Librarian of Congress, and its buildings are maintained by the Architect of the Capitol. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Library of Congress as the largest library in the world, and the library describes itself as such. Its "collections are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages."

National Film Registry selection of films for preservation in the US Library of Congress

The National Film Registry (NFR) is the United States National Film Preservation Board's (NFPB) selection of films deserving of preservation. The NFPB, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008. The NFPB's mission, to which the NFR contributes, is to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America's film heritage. The 1996 law also created the non-profit National Film Preservation Foundation which, although affiliated with the NFPB, raises money from the private sector.


Seconds is a mystery dealing with the obsession with eternal youth and a mysterious organization which gives people a second chance in life.

Eternal youth concept of human physical immortality free of aging

Eternal youth is the concept of human physical immortality free of ageing. The youth referred to is usually meant to be in contrast to the depredations of aging, rather than a specific age of the human lifespan. Achieving eternal youth so far remains beyond the capabilities of scientific technology. However, much research is being conducted in the sciences of genetics which may allow manipulation of the aging process in the future. Eternal youth is common in mythology, and is a popular theme in fiction.

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, whom he thought was dead, Hamilton is approached by a secret organization, known simply as the "Company", [6] which offers him a new life.

John Randolph (actor) actor

Emanuel Hirsch Cohen, better known by the stage name John Randolph, was an American film, television and stage actor.

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 learns as he is wheeled into the operating room, before being sedated, that he is to be killed. His body is 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 pushed through his head: as he loses consciousness, he has a random memory of two figures walking along a beach; the image distorts and loses resolution.


Salome Jens actress

Salome Jens is an American stage, film and television actress. She is perhaps best known for portraying the Female Changeling on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s.

Will Geer American actor

Will Geer was an American actor and social activist, who was active in labor organizing and other movements in New York and Southern California in the 1930s and 1940s. In California he befriended rising singer Woody Guthrie. They both lived in New York for a time in the 1940s. He was blacklisted in the 1950s by HUAC for refusing to name persons who had joined the Communist Party.

Jeff Corey actor and acting teacher

Jeff Corey was an American stage and screen actor and director who became a well-respected acting teacher after being blacklisted in the 1950s.


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.

James Wong Howe Chinese American film director and cinematographer

Wong Tung Jim, A.S.C., known professionally as James Wong Howe (Houghto), was a Chinese American cinematographer who worked on over 130 films. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was one of the most sought after cinematographers in Hollywood due to his innovative filming techniques. Howe was known as a master of the use of shadow and one of the first to use deep-focus cinematography, in which both foreground and distant planes remain in focus.

39th Academy Awards

The 39th Academy Awards, honoring the best in film for 1966, were held on April 10, 1967, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California. They were hosted by Bob Hope.

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 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]


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

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  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. 1 2 3 Sterrit, David (August 13, 2013). "Seconds: Reborn Again". Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  7. American Movie Classics when it presented Seconds during the 1990s.[ vague ]
  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 |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). Retrieved Feb 7, 2019.