This movie is one of a kind. For its star, Rock Hudson, and its director, John Frankenheimer, it represents an expansion of risk that goes well beyond what was, at the time, deemed reasonable for two Hollywood establishment super egos. The endeavor is a blend of science fiction, noir and horror that aims beyond the conceptual expectations of those genres.
In it, a wealthy banker pays to be “reborn” by an underground identity reconstruction boutique that quietly caters to the miserable, rich. The all expense payed package gets him a fake death (cadaver included), extreme facial reconstruction, in-depth psychiatric evaluation and placement in the new life of his dreams with every detail fully considered. It’s a great premise; so weird and implausible that all is forgiven even as the jowly, sour, fuddy-duddy, played by John Randolf, enters the procedure with much trepidation and comes out as Rock Hudson in his glorious, middle age prime.
The mood runs heavy in gothic tone. Deep focus shots, lensed by the famous James Wong Howe, emphasize fractured spaces and paranoid glances. The tension between then and now is immediate, on multiple levels. The banker’s (now painter’s) true past keeps creeping into his fabricated history, hinting in retrospect at Rock Hudson’s off-screen double life. A brooding church organ oozes ancient phrases from Bach in the background. Groovy, wide angle lenses render Hudson as an uptight, nineteen-sixties conservative, suddenly free, but unrecognizable to himself and incapable of embracing his liberty. In fact he clings unnervingly to his sense of duty to his real self. The one that was detached, mediocre. The party pooper. And the harder he tries to merge his two identities, the more he jeopardizes both existences. It is the ultimate pulp fiction take on existential crisis, with a finale twist that would make Rod Serling either jealous or proud.