By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Starting a new life.
Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle-aged man just going through the paces of life. He is stuck in a marriage that no longer has any spark and a job that is boring. His life is confined to the basic suburban rituals and he is quietly looking for a way out. Then he gets a call from Charlie Evans (Murray Hamilton) who he thought was dead. Charlie tells him that he is very much alive, but with a new identity. Arthur goes to a address that Charlie gives him and there he is told for $30,000 dollars he can be ‘reborn’ and given a completely new identity via plastic surgery as well as a whole new life with new friends and no connection to his dreary past. He would even be given a new set of fingerprints and new teeth while the death of his former self would be created in a way that it would leave no question, or suspicion.
This story is unique and fascinating on many levels. It pinpoints the monotony of middle-aged life and views living in suburbia not as the great American dream, but more as the American trap. I enjoyed the part where one of the Doctors named Davalo (Khigh Dhiegh) tells Arthur who has now been changed into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) that his new identity will be that of an established painter and he will no longer have to be quarantined with any responsibility and will instead be able to live the rest of his life pursuing is own individual interests, which is probably what everyone secretly desires.
The second half of the story where Tony tries to adjust to his new ‘dream’ lifestyle is equally as interesting if not more. Tony finds that his new friends and neighbors are other ‘reborns’ who will not allow him to backtrack into his old identity and seem compelled to keep in line with his new environment whether he was completely happy with it or not. During this segment I couldn’t help but think of the characters from Easy Rider and how Tony’s situation wasn’t much different. Both longed for complete personal freedom, but the more they tried to escape the societal strings the more they seemed to be dragged back into it. The part where Tony goes back to visit his wife while under the disguise of being a long lost friend of her late husband is revealing and dramatically the strongest part of the whole film.
John Frankenheimer’s direction is superb and intoxicating. The opening sequence featuring a lot of distorted imagery is excellent and creates a terrific mood for the story. The dream sequence where Arthur finds himself in a hotel room with another woman is captured in such a way that it looked almost like a Salvador Dali painting. The use of the fish-eyed lens that is put in at certain strategic moments is effective as well as stylish. The black and white cinematography is evocative and the organ playing soundtrack is distinct and moody.
Rock Hudson has always seemed to me as a weak leading man and apparently Frankenheimer considered him ‘lightweight’ as well, but when his first two choices turned down the role he decided to go with him and here it actually worked. I felt Hudson’s blank expression and confused demeanor fit well with the character’s situation. The part where he is shown tied to a bed and struggling to get out while his mouth is gagged is convincing. Veteran actor Randolph is quite good in the beginning playing Arthur a man who seems run over by life. The close-up of his nervous and sweating face leaves a strong impression. Will Geer is also excellent in support as the founder and head of the secret organization.
The twist ending is well done although I saw it coming long before our naïve protagonist did. Unlike the book it is clearer and less vague. This is one case where the film can make a great companion piece to the book, or vice versa. This is a definite sleeper of a movie screaming for more attention and has strong cult potential.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: October 5, 1966
Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes
Rated NR (Not Rated)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection) Amazon Instant Video