Release Date: May 2nd, 1953
Directed by: Dick Powell, Fred Fleck (assistant)
Written by: Irving Wallace, Chester Erskine
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling, Keith Andes
RKO Radio Pictures, 85 Minutes
“You ever been locked up? Some people can stand it and some people can’t. The ones who can’t would kill themselves and anybody else just to get out for five minutes.” – Sam Hurley
Split Second is a really unique film-noir. It taps into the post-World War II paranoia about the effects of nuclear bombs and radiation. While this sort of plot point was typically reserved for sci-fi films featuring kaiju or giant insects, RKO Radio Pictures took a shot at it in the context of a noir picture.
The film is directed by Dick Powell, a guy synonymous with noir, who starred in several, most notably: Murder, My Sweet, Pitfall and Johnny O’Clock. It stars Stephen McNally, who was most known for westerns, which fit well for the desert setting of this film. Plus, he also dabbled in noir. He was a detective in Robert Siodmak’s highly regarded Criss Cross.
The premise for this film is simple. An escaped killer holds a doctor’s wife and other people hostage in an old Nevada ghost town. Unbeknownst to him, it is an atomic bomb testing site and the government is going to drop a bomb on them.
Unfortunately, for a film with a really interesting premise, it isn’t all that exciting. It’s kind of drab and drawn out, even at just 85 minutes. It’s just full of a lot of drama between the criminal and his hostages in a cabin in the ghost town. He argues, he slaps people around, he shoots them if he has to but none of it really holds any weight and isn’t something you haven’t seen a million times. It’s a fairly mundane hostage movie and not much more, really.
This is a film that needed to build suspense but it fails to do so. You don’t really like anyone, even the good guys, and you just kind of wish the government would move up the time of the bombing. They do at the very end, actually.
It’s not particularly well acted but it isn’t poorly acted, it’s just very bland and feels like it’s missing something. Maybe there should have been less hostages, this group just feels like a lot of people that, if they played their cards right, would be able to overcome their captor fairly easily.
I also had to shake my head when the people escaped the atomic bomb by hiding in a mine and then after it went off, walked out of the mine and declared it safe. I’m pretty sure people in the 1950s had already known that atomic bombs breed radiation and that radiation is really, really bad.