October’s Sci-Fi Theatre: Seconds

“This may hurt a little”

Seconds is just one of those films. Those who like, it love it. Those who don’t, well, they probably have no idea the film exists. The former spend a lot of time recommending the film to the latter.

In it, directionless/depressed/disappointed/disappointing Arthur Hamilton is given the chance to be ‘reborn’ as successful Malibu artist Tony Wilson. We’re talking faked death, new face, new body, new name, new life – the works. It’s not a story about technology or science gone wrong, though. This is a thriller, a horror, a political parable and a moral lesson – all shot through with a whiff of science fiction.

“I agreed to take my chances” –Tony Wilson


It died on its feet at the box office, which we’ve always found strange. Sure, it’s not typical Hollywood material. This wasn’t the kind of Rock Hudson Rock Hudson fans wanted to see. But you could say the same about Frankenheimer’s earlier film, the 1962 The Manchurian Candidate. That wasn’t the Frank Sinatra your average filmgoer had in mind, but it did well.

Maybe it was just too bleak. And let’s be clear, this film is bleak. We don’t want to give too much away, but a new life hardly does wonders for Arthur. This is a film about alienation, paranoia, a lack of freedom and a spiritual void, and there isn’t a happy ending. Oh boy is there not a happy ending.

Which isn’t to say it’s a depressing watch. Far from it. It’s dark but it’s clever, and it never shows off. This isn’t directionless arthouse. It’s tight. Seconds is an expertly crafted thriller, and visually, it’s on another level. James Wong Howe’s cinematography here is just something else. Way ahead of its time.

The SFT original Seconds poster, designed by Rebecca Rose Carey

The Manchurian Candidate was Frankenheimer’s masterpiece. Seconds pushes it a close . . . well . . . second. It’s not a ‘cult’ film. It’s simply a really, really good film you haven’t seen yet.

Science Fiction Theatre is a London-based monthly film club run by The Space Merchants, purveyors of classic sf in all its guises. Seconds will be screened at The Duke of Wellington, N1 4BL on Thursday 16th October at 8pm. Tickets are available here.