KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (6)

By: Devin McKinney
August 6, 2017

One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973).

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SECONDS | d. JOHN FRANKENHEIMER | 1966

Seconds is a perfect film, once you comprehend the apparent failure of director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter Lewis John Carlino (working from David Ely’s tight, unnerving 1963 novel) to effectively dramatize the middle section.

The story is in three acts. The first introduces a middle-aged banker (John Randolph) who, lured and blackmailed by a clandestine corporation in whose product, “rebirth,” he has made the error of showing interest, purchases a staged death and new life — in the enviable vessel of Rock Hudson. In the second, Hudson’s “Tony Wilson,” fabricated as a playboy painter in the coldest, dreariest Malibu ever seen on film, nearly goes mad with ennui; and in the last, he forces himself back on the company, desperately, fatally agitating for one more shot.

Act I is excitingly lean and clinical, unusually naturalistic for pre-Renaissance Hollywood. The noir element obtains in Frankenheimer’s radical angling of foreground faces against receding interiors; James Wong Howe’s high-contrast photography; an unerring editing pulse; and a kind of crawling mundanity that is full of sorrow and heavy with something sinister. The despair of the scenes — elaborating on a Saul Bass title montage of bandaged heads and trembling mouths, faces liquescing in a distortion less psychedelic than amoebic, like droplets on laboratory slides — is immediate and unrelieved.

But Act II, heart of the story and of the film, is terrible: little go-nowhere scenes, gross and pompous acting, inexplicable behavior. A grape-stomping bacchanal — staged as a virtual gang rape of Wilson’s “bankerish soul” (Ely) — lasts too long; later, at a cocktail party, the camera, like a lurching drunk, gets up everyone’s nose, losing all sense of boundary. Stilted hysterics replace Act I’s cool logic. Yet this middle act, a slowly building eruption of the irrational, shouldn’t make that same kind of sense. Wilson fights to breathe in a tidepool of over-curious faces and indigestible emotions, of absolute liberation and rootlessness. Almost stupefyingly misjudged as moment-to-moment acting and directing, Act II makes every sense as a direct, sensory depiction of alienation, paranoia, entrapment.

Whereupon Act III restores the clinical balance, remastering the style and deadening the hopes before coming to benumbed rest under a surgical lamp and cranial drill, as our hero discovers his true identity at last — as a corpse, the meat and matter of some other man’s rebirth.

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KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Alix Lambert on BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | Judith Zissman on ALPHAVILLE | Mark Kingwell on HARPER | Lynn Peril on BLOW-UP | Devin McKinney on SECONDS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Gordon Dahlquist on LE SAMOURAÏ | Alice Boone on LE CERCLE ROUGE | Brian Berger on COTTON COMES TO HARLEM | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | David Levine on THE FRENCH CONNECTION | Dan Fox on GET CARTER | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Brandi Brown on SHAFT | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY | Peter Doyle on THE GETAWAY | Sarah Weinman on HICKEY & BOGGS | Annie Nocenti on BADLANDS | Josh Glenn on CHARLEY VARRICK | Gary Groth on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE | Lisa Jane Persky on THE LONG GOODBYE | Mimi Lipson on MEAN STREETS | Sherri Wasserman on SOYLENT GREEN.

MORE MOVIES at HILOBROW: KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 25 neo-noirs of the Sixties (1964–1973) | James Parker’s BOURNE VARIATIONS series | Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE series | Jacob Mikanowski’s SCREEN TIME series | Josh Glenn’s SHOCKING BLOCKING series | Joanne McNeil’s ALL MY STARS series | MORE: including dozens of HILO HERO items on movie directors and actors.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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