Seconds (John Frankenheimer / U.S., 1966):

Identity is fabricated and discarded like a pricey costume, but who remembers Thoreauís dictum about new clothes? Saul Bassí credits sequence introduces a note of Hans Richter that continues to quiver throughout, John Frankenheimer unclasps the baleful camera (with consequences for Aronofsky) and zeroes in on one sad-sack in a Grand Central Station swarm. The aging banker (John Randolph) sinks in muted anguish, married life has calcified into "a polite, celibate truce." The second chance he desires is now available with a hush-hush conglomerate, a product even the voices of the dead call in to advertise. A meat factory ("The Used Cow Dealer") camouflages the actual flesh business, a twinkling Mephistopheles (Will Geer, straw boater-halo and all) eases the client into the acid bath: "So this is what happens to the dreams of youth." A hundred such gags comprise the extended setup, the multi-layered punchline comes when the saggy protagonist removes his bandages to discover he's been shaped like a certain 1950s leading man (Rock Hudson). From suburbia to bohemia, from the Manhattan hausfrau in a separate bed (Frances Reid) to the Malibu sensualist in her Dionysian swirl (Salome Jens), the sham painter is unable to fill the sham canvases of his "own new dimension." Middle-class conformism and Counterculture abandon are matching dead ends to the existential consumer, both are deformed equally by the bulge of the demonic lenses. Eyes Without a Face for the surgery (thereís a sharp cut from the protagonistís pen about to touch the contract to the doctorís scalpel "writing" with blood), Siegelís pods for the cocktail-party revelation. The summit of Frankenheimerís Sixties unease, dreams of freedom laid bare as links in corporate chains, all pivoting on a magnificently self-reflexive performance from a synthetic superstar who understood secret lives. ("My beard itches under my mask," says Vanished Man in Teshigaharaís concurrent The Face of Another.) Cinematography by James Wong Howe. With Jeff Corey, Richard Anderson, Murray Hamilton, Karl Swenson, Khigh Dhiegh, Wesley Addy, and Joseph Campanella. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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