Two Seconds

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Two Seconds
Two Seconds 1932 poster.jpg
1932 Theatrical Poster
Directed by Mervyn Le Roy
Written by Harvey Thew
Based on Two Seconds (play)
by Elliott Lester
Starring Edward G. Robinson
Vivienne Osborne
Preston Foster
Music by W. Franke Harling
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by Terry Morse (aka Terry O. Morse)
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • May 28, 1932 (1932-05-28)
Running time 68 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Tony (J. Carrol Naish) and John (Edward G. Robinson) in Two Seconds

Two Seconds is a 1932 Pre-Code film directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Edward G. Robinson, Vivienne Osborne and Preston Foster. It was based on a successful Broadway play of the same name by Elliott Lester. The title refers to the two seconds it takes the condemned person to die in the electric chair after the executioner throws the switch. Preston Foster reprises the role he played on the Broadway stage.[1]


As John Allen, a condemned murderer, is led to the electric chair, a witness asks a guard how long it takes for the condemned person to die. "Two seconds," the guard answers, "the longest two seconds of his life." As the executioner throws the switch, the events that led up to the execution appear in flashback.

Allen works with his friend and flatmate Bud Clark as a riveter high up on the girders of a skyscraper under construction. Bud is engaged to be married, and tries to set up a date for Allen, but Allen is uninterested. He goes to a dance hall, where he meets dancer Shirley Day. He defends her from an amorous patron, and she is fired by Tony, the proprietor who is also her lover. Allen wants to be with an educated woman, and Shirley pretends to be interested in attending a lecture with him. Instead, she persuades him to go to a speakeasy and she gets him drunk on "tea". She bribes a justice of the peace to marry them; Allen is too drunk to realize what is happening. When they return to Allen's apartment, Shirley throws Bud out. Almost immediately, Shirley begins seeing Tony. Three weeks later, Bud tells Allen that Shirley is unfaithful. They fight, and Bud falls to his death from a skyscraper girder. The grief-stricken Allen then quits his job, but is demoralized by living on Shirley's ill-gotten money.

Later, Shirley pretends to repent and tells Allen that she has been meeting with Tony to borrow money to help Bud's fiancee Annie get a job at the dance hall. Allen begins betting on horses in order to pay off the debts Shirley owes Tony. One of his bets pays off $362 and Allen heads to Tony's house with the money, only to find Shirley in Tony's arms. He realizes that Bud had been telling the truth. He kills Shirley.

At his trial, Allen refuses to defend himself, saying he should have been killed when he was at his lowest, not when he had been avenged. As the switch is pulled, he reflects on how he got away with Bud's accidental death, but was condemned for Shirley's.

Cast (in credits order)[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Although he called it a "a sordid and melancholy study" that was "glum and gruesome" and "minus any comedy relief", New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall also found a lot to like in Two Seconds. "Edward G. Robinson contributes a remarkably forceful portrayal," he wrote, adding that the film was "adroitly done [and] compels attention." He called LeRoy's direction "imaginative and lifelike" and praised the supporting cast: "Preston Foster plays Bud Clark, a rôle he also interpreted on the stage. His acting is capital. Vivienne Osborne is very real as the conscienceless Shirley. J. Carroll Naish makes the most of the part of Tony." In summary, he writes: "In spite of its drab tale, it calls forth admiration, for it never falters."[2]

Variety's 1932 review was less enamored: "General slowness and stodgy overdramatics won't draw the flaps, nor will a tragic finale help."[3] In later years, prolific critic Leslie Halliwell tersely called Two Seconds a "competent, pacy crime melodrama".[4]

Cultural references[edit]

When a girl says to Preston Foster "who's the smiling lieutenant over there", in reference to John Allen (Robinson), she's making a reference to the 1931 film

'she aint no Peggy Joyce' Bud Clarke to John Allen (referring to a date he's setting John Allen with ('works in a laundrette')) Later: "There I was trying to get you Peggy Joyce & you go and get yourself hog tied to a dance hall dame" (Bud Clarke)

"Peggy Hopkins Joyce (May 26, 1893 – June 12, 1957) was an American actress, artist model and dancer. In addition to her performing career, Joyce was known for her numerous engagements, six marriages to wealthy men, subsequent divorces, scandalous affairs, her collection of diamonds and furs and her generally lavish lifestyle. "

There's a reference to Cagney (Public Enemy, 1931) and grapefruit - Bud (Preston Foster) to girl in the street "why don't I come across and squirt grapefruit in your eye, like they do in the movies" Re: Cagney "in a famous scene, when she complains once too often, he pushes half a grapefruit into her face."

Bud (Preston Foster), when Shirley Day brings John Allen back drunk, after having dragged him off to get married (she slipped the priest $10 because he was too drunk to stand) - Bud Foster to Shirley Day: "I'm not going to let you pull the old army game on him" "who's pulling the old army game" "I'm not trying to pull the army game on him, we're married already" (shows him the ring). The "army game" is the simplest con-trick, the "shell game", which, if you didn't know what it was, you would be easily taken in by. WC Fields refers to it when observing a shell (cup and ball) game going on, in the 1926 Silent "It's the old army game". "That's the old army game" he says sagely. It would have been common in the army (WW1)'s_the_Old_Army_Game . The game is still commonly operated, with minimal equipment in high traffic tourist areas.

Reference to Astor Hotel. Bud in talking to the two girls "got anything special on tonight" "yeah, we were just about to get a bite to eat at the astor" (sarcastically) ..... Bud: "Don't try to pull no astor stunts on me (that sarcasm) I don't come from the Bronx (poor area). Coupla drinks, the speak (speakeasy), a dance & maybe a movie." Bud is telling them he has money to spend. Hotel Astor was a hotel located in the Times Square area of Manhattan, in operation from 1904 through 1967. Featured a long list of elaborately themed ballrooms and exotic restaurants: the Old New York lobby, the American Indian Grill Room with artifacts collected with the help of the American Museum of Natural History, a Flemish smoking room, a Pompeiian billiard room, the Hunt Room decorated in sixteenth century German Renaissance style, and many other features.

Another building in the film is the Manhattan Municipal Building, which still exists. In the scenes of Bud and John riveting girders and their argument, it's the building shown prominently, centrally in the cityscape. The city marriage bureau was in that building. Johns demise results from his marriage to Shirley Day, who gets him drunk and drags him there. Johns argument with Bud about it, results in Bud falling his death.

"speak" A speakeasy, also called a blind pig or blind tiger, is an establishment that illegally sells alcoholic beverages. Such establishments came into prominence in the United States during the Prohibition era (1920–1933, longer in some states). During that time, the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States.


  1. ^ Two Seconds as produced on Broadway at the Ritz Theatre October 9, 1931 to November 1931, 59 performances,; accessed October 17, 2014.
  2. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (1932). "Edward G. Robinson in a Flash-Back Pictorial Melodrama Telling of the Last Thoughts of a Murderer". The New York Times, May 19, 1932; accessed October 11, 2011.
  3. ^ Variety 1932 review excerpted in Halliwell, Leslie and John Walker, ed. (1994). Halliwell's Film Guide 9th Edition. New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 0-06-273241-2. p. 1246
  4. ^ Halliwell, p. 1246

External links[edit]