Split Second (1953 film)

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Split Second
Split second poster small.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Dick Powell
Fred Fleck (assistant)
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by Irving Wallace
Story by Irving Wallace
Chester Erskine
Starring Stephen McNally
Alexis Smith
Jan Sterling
Keith Andes
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Robert Ford
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date
  • May 2, 1953 (1953-05-02) (US)[1]
Running time
85 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Split Second is a 1953 American film noir thriller directed by Dick Powell about escaped convicts and their hostages holed up in a ghost town, unaware of the grave danger they are in. It features Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling, and Keith Andes.[2]


Alexis Smith from the trailer

Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally) and Bart Moore (Paul Kelly) escape from prison, although Moore is seriously wounded in the breakout. They meet up with a confederate, a mute named "Dummy" (Frank de Kova), and hide out in a ghost town. Along the way, they pick up several hostages, Kay Garven (Alexis Smith) and her lover Arthur Ashton (Robert Paige), reporter Larry Fleming (Keith Andes), dancer Dorothy "Dottie" Vail (Jan Sterling), and the town's sole resident, Asa Tremaine (Arthur Hunnicutt). Sam calls Kay's husband Neal (Richard Eagan), a doctor, and threatens to kill Kay if he does not come and help Bart.

Larry warns the gangsters that the government is going to conduct an atomic bomb test nearby the next morning, but Sam does not believe him. When Arthur causes trouble, Sam kills him without a qualm. To Kay's surprise, Neal still loves her enough to show up. He successfully operates on Bart, but warns Sam that moving his friend too soon will kill him. When Sam finally realizes that Larry was telling the truth, he still waits as long as possible to give Bart time to recuperate.

Unknown to everyone, the test has been moved ahead an hour due to favorable weather conditions. When the five-minute warning sounds earlier than expected, Sam and Bart hurry to Neal's car and a desperate Kay persuades Sam to take her along. Larry overpowers Dummy, but the others drive away. Asa leads Dottie, Larry and Neal to safety in a nearby mine. Sam, Bart and Kay are killed by the explosion, but the others emerge unharmed.


Victor Mature and Jane Russell were originally intended as the leads.[3]

Stephen McNally in Split Second

Critical responses[edit]

When the film was released, The New York Times film critic, A.W. Weiler, while praising the cast, gave the film a mixed review, and at the same time encouraged first-time director Dick Powell. He wrote, "In making his directorial debut with Split Second, Dick Powell fortunately acquired a small but enthusiastic and competent cast, a fairly sturdy script and a contemporary peg on which to hang his melodrama, which turned up at the Criterion yesterday. Unfortunately, however, the pace at which this thriller moves is erratic and while its dénouement is spectacular it is hardly surprising. Split Second is a fairly taut adventure closely tied to the atomic age but it is rarely explosive .... Mr. Powell's initial directorial effort is not likely to startle the cinema world but it is a long step in the right direction."[4]

More recently, film and DVD critic Jamie S. Rich, also gave the film a lukewarm review, writing, "The film doesn't have much tension, despite the inherent drama of the scenario. The main reason for this is Hurley. He isn't written as being all that menacing. He's more the know-it-all pessimist who sees through everyone else's charade, rather than the scary murderer who plays mind games with his victims. He stirs up the pot some, but the juiciest stuff emerges all on its own ... the bulk of Split Second is essentially unremarkable. It's a serviceable lower-tier movie that moves at an efficient pace and provides mild entertainment."[5]


  1. ^ "Split Second: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  2. ^ Split Second at the TCM Movie Database.
  3. ^ "Drama: Jane Russell, Mature Team in 'Split Second'". Los Angeles Times. June 13, 1952. 
  4. ^ "The Screen in Review; Split Second, First Venture of Dick Powell as a Director, Is Shown at the Criterion". The New York Times. May 5, 1953. Retrieved July 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Split Second". DVD Talk. Retrieved July 18, 2013. 

External links[edit]