Director: John Frankenheimer / Script: Lewis John Carlino (from David Ely’s novel) / DoP: James Wong Howe / Editor: David Newhouse, Ferris Webster / Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: John Randolph / Murray Hamilton / Jeff Corey / Will Geer / Richard Anderson / Rock Hudson / Karl Swenson
Rock Hudson’s career is reborn.
When the midlife crisis hits, most men (myself included) buy a sports car. Others take up golf. Or a mistress.
Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a career banker in a lifeless marriage and thankless job, goes a step further and signs up with a shadowy Company that will, thanks to radical plastic surgery, give him not just a new life, but a whole new ‘id’ into the bargain, having trawled his subconscious for clues as to his true desires.
Post-surgery and now reinvented as an ‘established’ artist on the other side of the country, our hero now resembles Rock Hudson (in a career-best performance), and has the improbable new name of Antiochus Wilson; handles like this are all part of the service, it seems…
The truth slowly dawns on Wilson, that your true nature CAN’T change, no matter what you try; something familiar to Hudson, who struggled for years to keep his homosexuality a secret, in order to preserve his career… Different times.
When the dualism finally, inevitably cracks, he returns to the Company, asking not for a refund (tricky) but a chance to work back at the bank, where he might ‘start-over’ a second time. The Leopard realises all too late, that he can’t change his spots after all…
Already a seasoned director of thrillers with a psychological edge, John Frankenheimer opens his account here, with a claustrophobic, sweaty opening, before the blank, sinister corridors of the Company give way to a beach house in liberal Malibu. A Bacchanalian revel in a wine-press goes on for too long, even though JF is groping towards hedonistic release (Hey! The Sixties!), but elsewhere, the economy of Lewis John Carlino’s script (from David Ely’s novel) and disorienting use of a fisheye lens by DP James Wong Howe all add to the paranoia. Jerry Goldsmith’s alienating and often discordant score also works to build paranoia; just as well, when it turns out they really ARE out to get you!
Giving supporting roles to actors who’d previously been blacklisted by the HUAC was a casting gamble that paid-off, with arresting performances from an array of character performers long-overlooked. Names such as John Randolph, Jeff Corey and Nedrick Young probably won’t ring many bells for you, but whether Communists or not, Just Look at Them and consider what might have been. It was another, deliberate nod to giving ‘second chances’ by Frankenheimer.
Nothing happened by accident on this disturbing, riveting picture.
The question of death selection may be the most important decision in your life.