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SPLIT SECOND (director: Dick Powell; screenwriters: William Bowers/Irving Wallace/story by Chester Erskine; cinematographer: Nick Musuraca; editor: Robert Ford; music: Roy Webb; cast: Stephen McNally (Sam Hurley), Alexis Smith (Kay Garven), Jan Sterling (Dottie), Keith Andes (Larry Fleming), Arthur Hunnicutt (Asa), Paul Kelly (Bart Moore), Richard Egan (Dr. Neal Garven), Frank de Kova (Dummy), Robert Paige (Arthur Ashton); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edmund Grainger; RKO; 1953)
“A tense thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dick Powell’s directorial debut is a tense thriller that features a few oddball characters with easily noticeable psychological defects. The characters are finely drawn out but the film’s plot line was too shaky to hold together. It’s eerily set in a Nevada nuclear testing site in the desert. William Bowers and Irving Wallace provide the screenplay from a Chester Erskine story. The crisp B&W photography is by Nick Musuraca.

Dangerous convicts Sam Hurley and Bart Moore escape from a Carson City prison and are met by their armed accomplice Dummy. The escape is just at the time there’s to be the nuclear test. Ace reporter Larry Fleming is pulled off the nuclear test story and sent by his editor to cover the prison break. On the road he gives a ride to the sexy Dottie, a showgirl dancer heading to Reno. Meanwhile the escapees have killed a gas station attendant and taken as hostage the spoiled socialite Kay Garven and the insurance agent Arthur Ashton; she’s getting a divorce from her Pasadena doctor husband Neal and contemplating marrying Arthur. When the hostage’s Chrysler runs out of gas, the escapees flag down Larry and then commandeer his car. The four hostages are not the only problem faced by the convicts, as Bart took a bullet and needs medical help. Because of this mishap, Sam changes plans and instead of meeting another accomplice the gang heads for an old mining ghost town located in the middle of where the atomic explosion is to take place tomorrow morning. Bart is Sam’s closest and most loyal friend, and he will not leave him to die. Sam calls Kay’s husband and orders him to come to the ghost town and operate on Bart, or else he will kill his wife. That Neal shows up alone, without warning the police, was difficult for me to fathom. But nevertheless he’s there to save his trampy wife, even though he knows he will never want to reconcile with her again. The gang also take as a hostage a gabby old mining prospector, Asa, who was living in the ghost town. As one hostage says, they are caught between the Devil and the bomb.

The conclusion involves the A-bomb being detonated, and to see if it is the criminals or the hostages who come out alive. Stephen McNally made for a vicious criminal, Jan Sterling made for a nice roadside pickup, and Alexis Smith made for a weak character looking out only for herself. My problem is that I never was convinced the good doctor was the suicidal type to take the bait of the killer and play hero for a wife who no longer loved him. Otherwise, the routine crime drama had its share of nerve tingling thrills.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”