Directed by John Frankenheimer
Eureka Entertainment, out 26 October
Everyone would love a second chance… to start again with a new face, a new life… wouldn’t they…?
John Frankenheimer’s black and white science fiction horror story is another of his explanations of paranoia on a personal scale – the tale of Arthur Hamilton, a man whose whole appearance is changed by a mysterious Company into that of “Antiochus Wilson”, who gets the chance to live in a way that he could never have done before, but who cannot escape his own fundamental nature. It’s an unsettling film – the use of an unusual camera rig for the opening sections gives it a disorientation that never truly goes away – and the switch of lead actor from John Randolph as Hamilton to Rock Hudson as Wilson, whose new face is gradually revealed before his “old” personality reasserts itself, adds to that feel.
This isn’t the Rock Hudson of the Doris Day comedies, or the man who sleptwalk his way through Macmillan and Wife by-the-numbers detective TV movies later in life. As with William Shatner’s performance in Roger Corman’s The Intruder, this shows levels of acting ability that remained untapped for far too much of the time. The middle part of the film lives or dies based on Hudson’s acting, and you do buy into the idea that this is the same man as Randolph played, albeit wrapped in a considerably more attractive package.
The air of grotesquery is aided by those who help Hamilton become Wilson, with Richard Anderson a particularly unpleasant plastic surgeon – a role he mentions in his memoir as being important to him because he got the last line. He might have done, but it’s Hudson’s acting in that final scene that will stay with you for a long time…
The transfer is crisp and clear, with two commentaries, one of which is Frankenheimer’s own from 1997, as well as an interview with Kim Newman, which together with the accompanying booklet’s essays by Mike Sutton and David Cairns, and the second commentary by Adrian Martin put the film in context not just within Frankenheimer’s career, but also culturally.
Verdict: An unjustly overlooked exploration of wish-fulfilment. 8/10