Sunday, October 21, 2007

You Only Live Twice

Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

From one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever seen is this fish-eye close-up of Rock Hudson, tied to a hospital gurney, realizing that he's not going to get a third chance at the end of John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966).

"Seconds" has an intriguing premise. Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a wealthy and bored, middle aged man, attempts to start a new life with the help a secret organization referred to as the "Company." The Company (no relation to the CIA), sells it's well-to-do prospects the chance to be "reborn" as a different person. A sort of witness relocation program on steroids, for clients this rebirth includes the staging of their death (complete with another corpse), a new identity (with the dream job of their choice) and extensive surgical alterations by a master plastic surgeon (Richard Anderson). Thus, Hamilton is able to become Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson).

Though not perfect, it's still a powerful film that was underrated (if not ignored) when it was released. In fact, "Seconds" was booed after a screening at Cannes.

Maybe it was just too bleak. Or maybe James Wong Howe's innovative and unusual visual style was off-putting to audiences.

Also, I'm sure that many found it hard to accept Rock Hudson, best known for his light, romantic Doris Day comedies, in this serious, dark and depressing thriller. Even Frankenheimer didn't want to cast Hudson as Wilson.

In retrospect, Hudson was the perfect choice.

"Seconds" is about living a lie. Who, in 1966, wouldn't have want to become Rock Hudson. Even Hudson himself said "I can't play a loser, I don't look like one." Yet, Wilson can't get past the previous life he sacrificed for his second chance. And this is his undoing.

Tony Wilson was someone Hudson knew all too well. Hudson had to suppress his life as a homosexual to maintain the persona of suave ladies man. Wilson's predicament was certainly an analog for Hudson's own REAL conflict.

It's a great performance.

It's a pity that the movie and Rock Hudson's efforts didn't get the kudos they deserved in 1966. Hudson never got his own second chance to attempt anything as ambitious after the failure of "Seconds."

The words of Wilson's doctor in the final scene, lamenting the fact that he had to destroy his masterpiece while the sound of a cranial drill buzzes in the background, could almost be attributed to Hudson himself reflecting on the fate of the movie:

"I’m sorry it had to come to this. You were my best work."

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