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John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966)

Rock Hudson seldom got to play roles of substance; he was stuck with the “pretty boy” leading man image all his life. John Frankenheimer‘s brilliant and sadly forgotten film, Seconds (1966) offered him a chance to do something more than his usual action film, or romantic comedy. Seconds — as in “I’ll have seconds, please,” or the “seconds” of one’s life, or a “second chance” — is about an aging man, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), who is suddenly offered the chance to live his life over again, in a new body, and to disappear from his desperate and mundane suburban existence. All he has to do is to sign over everything he owns, and he’ll wake up with a new identity, thirty years or so younger, and a whole new lease on life. Or so he thinks.

Tricked into signing over all his worldly possessions and agreeing to the Faustian bargain only under duress — the company that will do the makeover drugs him, then stages his participation in a faked pornographic film, so that it’s impossible for him to change his mind — Hamilton wakes up after the surgery as Rock Hudson, and is given a new identity as a beach bum artist, but as he soon discovers, nothing comes without a price — in this case, one that will obliterate him – in either persona – entirely. Unremittingly bleak and downbeat, the film was, not surprisingly, a financial failure at the boxoffice, but Seconds is nevertheless a film that speaks directly to the cult of eternal youth that is being pushed relentlessly in the media today, and remains one of Frankenheimer’s most resonant, and successful films.

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About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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