“Repressed sexuality is a major undercurrent in John Frankenheimer‘s Seconds (’66), signaling the sexual revolution movement among middle-class Americans in the 1960s. And so it’s easy to see why Rock Hudson, whose double life was a constant throughout his career despite its widespread knowledge throughout the industry, was drawn to a picture about the manipulation of appearances and the denial of one’s inner self.
“Before John Randolph opts into the program, there’s a bedroom scene where his wife makes her way onto her husband’s separate bed. She offers herself up to him, but he remains cold and unwilling, the moment as unsexy a depiction of middle-aged sexuality as ever to appear in cinema.
“Later, after his transformation into Wilson, Hamilton attends the bacchanalia festival with Nora (Salome Jens) and finds himself uncomfortable in his surroundings. Free spirits disrobe to their nethers and gaily dance about, the frantic cutting of the sequence reflecting Hamilton’s discomfort with his own desire to join them. He stands on the margins, watching, enticed and ashamed for it, until Nora strips and leaps into a grape crushing vat along with countless nude others.
“Finally the crowd gathers him and, though he protests, forces off his clothes; he’s plunged into the vat and covered in grape must. Clinging to Nora, he at last lets go and begins to shout with ecstasy and joy. Hamilton’s sexual repression seems cured, a hopeful idea for Hudson, whose secret could not be so easily or publically freed from its constraints at the time.” — from Brian Eggart’s Deep Focus review, posted on 8.18.12.
I wrote the following on 8.5.13: “Seconds is a black drag to sit through. A dark, creepy, chilly-hearted downer from start to finish. Mainly about malevolence and threats and intimidation and dread. ‘Interesting,’ yes, because of the creepy Orwellian (or do I mean Burroughsian?) tone and James Wong Howe‘s nightmarish black-and-white cinematography. But it’s mostly punishing.
“Seconds lasts 107 minutes and aside from the grape-stomping scene there isn’t even a 30-second passage that delivers anything that comes close to enjoyable. The movie makes you feel like there’s a needle in your neck the whole time.
“Rock Hudson spends pretty much the entire film looking over his shoulder and sucking in cigarette smoke and acting like one of the most haunted and miserable fucks who ever agreed to star in a film about a haunted, miserable fuck.
“The dweebs like Seconds because it’s a modern horror story about middle-class entrapment and corporate malevolence, and because some of James Wong Howe’s camerawork vaguely recalls the severe angles and surreal set design in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But if you watch it from a gut Joe Popcorn level (i.e., without your honorary scholastic film lover cap on) it will send you into a tailspin of depression. It’s not ‘scary’ — it’s suffocating. It’s about ‘how much longer does this last?’ It’s about hitting the fast-forward button during the slow scenes.
“The fundamental thing that you can’t buy is that John Randolph could be transformed into Hudson through plastic surgery. It would have been ten times more interesting if Frankenheimer had just had Hudson wear lots of older-guy makeup with a putty nose and chin and neck wattle. Randolph is maybe 5’11 or six feet tall compared to Hudson’s six-foot-five, and it’s just ridiculous that plastic surgeons would be able to add five or six inches of height to his frame.
“On top of which Randolph is a miserable dead man at the beginning — a faceless organization stooge who takes a train to Manhattan every morning and then back to Scarsdale every night — and he’s the same guy inside Hudson all the way through. Why should we, the audience, want to hang out with this colorless terrified man…this flat glass of water? Why should we care what happens to him? It’s wonderful when Randolph finally ‘dies’ on the operating table because at least he’s gone and we have only party-pooper Hudson to deal with.
“All you know as a viewer is that you’re expected to be fascinated by Seconds because the dweebs have written in their reviews that it’s a classic cerebral horror trip, and so you’re sitting there going ‘what’s wrong with me…why is this movie making me feel so bad and bored when the dweebs have told me it’s a really brave and special film, and that it made them feel cool and elated and should be part of the national archives?'”