Karyn Gerhard is a senior editor at Alpha Books and an information addict looking for an adventure. This blog documents her explorations into of all those dusty corners of human culture that no one has bothered to clean in years.
The question of death selection may be the most important decision in your life. — Mr. Ruby
Have you ever wanted to reinvent yourself? I mean, truly reinvent yourself, with new looks, a new job, new friends, a new life? The desire to do just that, and how it can all go horribly wrong, is at the heart of this dark and disturbing thriller.
Seconds (1966) is the story of Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph, Clark Griswold’s dad in Christmas Vacation), a rich, middle-aged schlub with a depressing bank job and a loveless marriage. His life is going nowhere, and he wants out. But what can he do? Then one day he’s approached by a man who tells him about the Company, an organization that can fake his death, change his face, give him a new identity and set him up in a new life. Turns out, the man is an old friend of his he thought had died, but who actually took the “transformation” at the Company. Arthur decides to check it out.
Although Arthur is hesitant about it all, through some pretty persuasive tactics by the Company, he goes through with the transformation. His death is staged to make it look like he died in a hotel fire, with a corpse supplied by the Company. Then, after months of reconstructive surgery and psychotherapy, he is reassigned as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), an artist with a beachfront house in Malibu and a manservant (a Company employee hired to help him with the transformation). All is great for a while, but soon he realizes that the new life the Company chose for him really isn’t what he wanted. After breaking the rules and visiting his ex wife, Tony goes back to the Company to get reassigned to a new life. But the Company has other plans.
And that’s when things really get scary.
Part horror film, part psychological thriller, part drama, Seconds is a hallucinatory nightmare that takes “disturbing” to a whole new level. Director John Frankenheimer was at his prime here—within five years he had pretty much invented a new genre of movie, a combination of stark and black-and-white cinema, over-the-top production design, and above all, paranoia. In fact, Seconds is considered part of Frankenheimer’s “paranoia trilogy,” along with the Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964).
Distortion plays a big part in this movie—distortion of reality, of perceptions, of expectations, and of life in general—and legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe came up with a brilliant way to illuminate that on screen. By using a then-new piece of equipment, the fish-eye lens, Howe bulges, stretches, and distorts scenes to make us feel the complete upheaval and sickening unease Tony is experiencing in his new surroundings, as well as his go-for-bonkers final scene at the Company. (Howe received an Academy Award nomination for his work.)
As much as I love the direction, script (based on a sci-fi novel by David Ely), and cinematography, what completely blows me away in this movie is Rock Hudson’s performance. Before I saw this movie I only really thought of Hudson as the rogue playboy in those frothy Doris Day comedies (which I adore, don’t get me wrong); I had no idea he could go to the insane depths needed to in this movie. The scene with his ex-wife is incredibly poignant and heartbreaking, and his final scene (no, I’m not going to tell you what happens!) is jaw-dropping. He’s a total powerhouse here.
Although an inexplicable failure at the box office when it came out (maybe people didn’t see Rock Hudson as a serious enough actor…? who knows), Seconds has since achieved a well-deserved cult status, and is an absolute must-see.
One of most memorable scenes is the party Tony throws to introduce himself to his new Malibu scene, so our food this week is a 1960s cocktail party favorite. Serve this tasty dip with toast points or crackers and a pitcher of martinis for a perfect accompaniment to this deliciously twisted movie. Enjoy!
- Prep time: 10 minutes
- Cook time: 25 minutes
- Makes 6 ¼-cup servings
- 1 7-oz. can crab or fresh lump crabmeat
- 1 8-oz. package cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ tsp. horseradish
- 1 Tbsp. sherry or cream
- 2 Tbsp. chopped onion
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 tsp. ground white pepper
- ¼ cup shredded cheese of choice (cheddar, asiago, swiss, etc.)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients except the cheese and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes, sprinkle with the shredded cheese, and return to the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Variations: Add seasonings such as dill weed or basil. You can also change the protein to shredded chicken or chipped beef, and add chopped artichoke hearts, asparagus, spinach, or broccoli.
From The Complete Idiotís Guide to Low-Carb Meals by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon