Through a series of bizarre encounters, Hamilton is offered – and then forced to take – an opportunity to start life all over again.
“The Company” will fake Hamilton’s death and ensure that his family will be taken care of financially. Then through plastic surgery, Hamilton will become one Antiochus “Tony” Wilson: a younger, handsome and successful painter living in Malibu, played by Rock Hudson.
It’s a similar premise to The Stepford Wives, except the husband decides to make himself over instead of his spouse.
So what man wouldn’t want to wake up looking like Rock Hudson, living the life of a famous, wealthy painter, frolicking on a California beach with a stunning, vivacious new girlfriend?
Hamilton, that’s who.
But by the time he realizes his exciting new life is as empty as he believed his boring old one to be, it’s too late to turn back…
A great deal has been written about the multiple subtexts of Seconds — the Hollywood “blacklist,” as well as Hudson’s then-secret (more or less) gay identity and faltering career; the crazy “Brian Wilson connection”; the extraordinary lengths Howe and Frankenheimer went to realize their vision — and all these do indeed add invisible yet palpable depth to the film.
Yet it was all too much of a good (or bad, or just plain disturbing) thing, as recalled at MovieMorlocks.com:
Unfortunately, despite good reviews, the film was a failure upon its release because the people who wanted to see Rock Hudson did not want to see this kind of film, while the people who wanted to see this kind of film did not want to see Rock Hudson in it. “As a result” [Frankenheimer said on the commentary track for the laserdisc edition] “that leaves an audience of about five or six… this was literally a movie where you could call up the theater owner and say “What time does Seconds go on?” and the guy would say “Well, what time can you get here?”
With the dying days of the Hays Code the Catholic Church demanded cuts from a scene from Hamilton’s new life, one depicting a real life annual California wine festival that featured a giant vat full of naked people stomping grapes. The cuts backfired, though: Frankenheimer claimed the crude splicing made the scene “really look like an orgy” instead of the bizarrely innocent bohemian spectacle it actually was.