Seconds & Second Chances with Rock!

DATELINE:  No Deal?

unbecoming Rock Unbecoming Rock!

We love Seconds, or even thirds and fourths of Rock Hudson in his best performance—ever.

We cannot say this lightly. The John Frankenheimer film of 1966 was a game changer in style and director controls. Here, you find something completely different in its stylistic attitude. Cameras may be strapped to the backs of the actors, and the entire feel is somewhat institutional hallucination.

Seconds is a tale of new beginnings, or at least the kind offered by impersonal corporations, if run by some Satan. In this case, the satanic figure is fatherly (and even grandfatherly) Will Geer, better known as Grandpa Walton. Here, he is in his early career roots as the bad guy with a smile that is malevolent. His lackey Jeff Corey is suitably irritating.

Many other familiar faces of the 1960s give this film a sense of been there—but not quite. Frances Reid later became a soap opera queen of Days of Our Lives, but here is the wife of John Randolph, a man in his 50s and unhappy.

He is about to have the chance to become a run-down Rock Hudson.

The deal, like all those offered by Faustian bargain, is never quite what you want. Here, Rock Hudson discovers a tad too late that the hedonistic life of an artist in Malibu is not all it’s cracked up to be with corporate spies (Salome Jens) and a butler/manservant that is all too obsequious.

The final moments of the film are chilling and provide Hudson with something he never had in movies: a real juicy acting gig. This is something to behold and admire, and it holds up for the baby-boomers who might have scoffed in youth, and now look askance at the aging process.

Angel on My Shoulder: Classic Fantasy

DATELINE: Devilish Fun.

he's no angel  He’s no angel (Muni with Rains).

Harry Segall was the trifecta leader in Hollywood in the 1940s. You may confuse his three movies about death and the hereafter for their formulaic plots.

He loved the devil/angel angles and used them in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait (original story), and Angel on My Shoulder. He worked at all the major studios and wrote exactly the heavenly tale requested.

Almost always it featured the wry, sly Claude Rains (one-time Invisible Man) as the spiritual or demonic force. He did these lighter films between a series of Warner Brothers epics with either Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart.

He was always the scene-stealing costar.

In Angel on My Shoulder, he reverses course and plays the devil. Indeed, the opening twenty minutes of the film is delightful in its cynical and diabolic presentation of Hell. And, Rains runs his  corporation with a hot hand. He quotes doggerel poetry to great effect.

Without makeup, Paul Muni is the lug this time: it’s either a boxer or a gangster from the shady side with a blue-collar, ghetto demeanor. He is always saved by a beautiful, wholesome girl (this time Anne Baxter before she went to seed in All About Eve).  Muni foregoes playing a historical figure to be a contemporary crook for once.

One you leave the netherworld and return to the Big City of 1946, you have the usual stereotypic gangster idiots with recognizable faces from a dozen other films. Of course, he takes over his Doppleganger’s body (the virtuous Judge Parker).

All the bad guys are shocked by the change in the Judge to newly acquired thuggish lexicon –“Let me case the joint,” he requests.

He has been dispatched by a traitor fellow crook, Smiley, when he asks for his old gat and receives four slugs. “Let me have it,” is exactly the mantra used.

Of course, the love of a good woman changes everything, though the gangster cannot remain in the body he doesn’t own—and more deals with the devil are required.

Special effects are simple and kept to a minimum, mostly walking through doors.

Rains always transcended the material, and he does so here too.