A mysterious private organisation promises luckless bankrupts and failures a completely new physical identity. Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), ageing and penniless, gets wind of the place through a friend, and, after a trip via a laundry service and the back of a white van, finally locates their morbid offices, staffed by a variety of nutty eccentrics, including an over-eager salesman who orders a “last meal” for Hamilton, then, when it’s refused, gleefully scoffs it himself while discussing procurement of the corpse that is to stand in for Hamilton’s body when his death is faked, and the owner of the establishment, a KFC-esque avuncular Southern colonel type, all smiles and encouragement. Entrusting his new life to these nutballs, Hamilton undergoes all-over plastic surgery – cue labcoats, swabs and acres of bandage – to re-emerge as one Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), followed by a weird debriefing from a moustachoied greaseball who for some sinister reason can’t stop giggling. Job done!
Although it all goes wrong of course, neatly spiralling to a harrowing, unexpected but neatly circular end. On top of all that, there’s John Frankenheimer’s delirious camerawork – wide angles, fisheyes, PoV shots (with camera physically attached to Hamilton/Wilson as he meanders down the corridors, the est part of a decade bfore Martin Scorsese pulled the same trick with a pissed-up De Niro in Mean Streets) and that much-loved PoV-of-trolley- bound-patient-staring-up-at-corridor-lights shot, which may well have made its debut here, and certainly became a well-worn signifier of the “sinister lab” setup (see Jacob’s Ladder, which consists of little else).
(Note for paranoids – this being a sixties film and all, its disorientating subject matter and style made waves among the more… shall we say, chemically susceptible members of the public, most famously Brian Wilson, who, on spotting the fact Rock’s character had the same surname as him, naturally inferred that the film was all a plot by Phil Spector to psychically nobble him for nicking his string arrangements. Makes sense to us. Tony Wilson’s thoughts on the film, alas, are unrecorded.)