A jumped-up episode of The Twilight Zone makes its way into the lap of director John Frankenheimer and ends up being a pretty smooth vehicle for the ever-alluring charm of one Rock Hudson. Seconds is often recognised as a pioneer of filmmaking, a core piece of work that defines what it is to make a film that strikes fear into the heart of its audience. But do the thrills captured throughout last more than a few, shall we say, seconds? Sorry. Couldn’t resist the pun.
Seconds has an entertaining premise, and much of the build-up turns it into a film seeped in dark and dingy surroundings. The cloak and dagger techniques of an unidentified corporation, turning the lives of unsatisfied rich men into something they could only dream of, is such an interesting premise. To take a life and completely redefine it after a few stabs of a scalpel and a quick jab to the vocal cords, before you know it, you’re looking like a well chiselled forty something with a new lease for life. It’s the perfect opportunity to discuss greed, the dangers of a new life and the inability to grow from mistakes, and most crucially, it’ll give a showcase of just how folly we can be when we take life for granted. I thought Seconds would offer more than a brief glimmer of this, but I was sorely mistaken.
The problems occur when Rock Hudson appears, a shame, since the man is a frankly great actor. He’s an embodiment of the Hollywood golden era, the all-round good guy that gets the girl trades in his romantic good looks for a walk on the dark side, in a film that should have seen him come to terms with his new identity and life. Instead, we throw all of that out of the window and Seconds turns into a rather tepid piece of drama rather quickly. It throws out all of the substance and stylish manoeuvres it had performed up until that point and replaces it rather haphazardly with further, conventional motives. Instead of discussing its message, we spend our time with Tony Wilson (Hudson) who, upon being given the gift of a new life, does absolutely nothing with it.
Perhaps this would be forgivable if the build-up was at least lukewarm, but the presentation of a man that is desperate to leave behind his old life lingers on throughout the second act and beyond. It’s such a truly inspiring premise, with the first forty minutes being nothing short of edge of your seat entertainment. Latter scenes never quite topple the atmospheric opening inherited at the start of the film, and it’s by far the biggest downfall of the whole scenario. Seconds does work its way back around to that ever so crucial science fiction aspect, but by that point it’s too little, too late. I feel like there’s wasted opportunities throughout Seconds, and each and every one of them would’ve made the film feel far more engaging.
Supremely conventional direction from Frankenheimer give us a safe pair of hands when heading through the film, but there’s so much missing that it’s hard to see why I should bother. Hudson is always a charm to see, and his performance is certainly a comfortable piece of frankly tedious filmmaking scenes. He plays well with a strange plot, but it’s let down by the aimless wandering it takes while stuck in its second act. With a bit of a clean-up, Seconds could’ve been something completely marvellous. Instead, it feels like completely wasted potential, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more resentful of a film I somewhat enjoyed before.