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Split Second (1953)

Not Rated  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  2 May 1953 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 874 users  
Reviews: 33 user | 9 critic

Sam Hurley, "Nation's No. 1 killer" with a cold contempt for "heroes," escapes prison with two companions and takes a mixed bag of hostages to Nevada ghost town Lost Hope City. He knows ... See full summary »



(screen play), (screen play), 2 more credits »
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Title: Split Second (1953)

Split Second (1953) on IMDb 6.9/10

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Complete credited cast:
Stephen McNally ...
Sam Hurley
Kay Garven
Dottie Vale
Keith Andes ...
Larry Fleming
Arthur Hunnicutt ...
Asa Tremaine
Paul Kelly ...
Bart Moore
Robert Paige ...
Arthur Ashton
Richard Egan ...
Doctor Neal Garven
Dummy (as Frank de Kova)


Sam Hurley, "Nation's No. 1 killer" with a cold contempt for "heroes," escapes prison with two companions and takes a mixed bag of hostages to Nevada ghost town Lost Hope City. He knows they won't be found there because an atom-bomb test is planned for next morning! Relationships shift and tension builds as Hurley keeps the others in suspense as to whether he will let them escape before bomb time. Written by Rod Crawford <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Steel Your Nerves! Here's excitement that will smash them! See more »


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

2 May 1953 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Atomexplosion in Nevada  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Considering the level of security around the test site, including the number of roadblocks set up to keep people away, how did Dr. Garven manage to drive into the ghost town seemingly unimpeded? See more »


Sam Hurley: 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.
See more »


Referenced in Skullduggery (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

Big man, he has Atom Bombs for breakfast!
23 July 2013 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Split Second is directed by Dick Powell and written by William Bowers, Irving Wallace and Chester Erskine. It stars Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling, Keith Andes, Arthur Hunnicutt, Richard Egan, Paul Kelly, Robert Paige and Frank DeKova. Music is by Roy Webb and cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca.

Escaped convict Sam Hurley (McNally) is on the run with his wounded pal Bart Moore (Kelly) and henchman accomplice Dummy (DeKova). Carjacking two lots of hostages, Hurley takes them to a ghost town on an Atom Bomb test sight figuring it's the perfect place to hole up. But with Moore in need of medical help, the test bomb set to go off in the morning and tempers frayed within the group, something is going to have to give...

A taut and sweaty noir, Split Second taps into the 50s fear of the bomb and explodes the character dynamics Petrified Forest style. The premise is simple, once the character introductions are out the way, we wind our way to a bleak ghost town and stay in the company of a disparate group of people for the remainder of the film. As the clock ticks down, with the bomb set to be detonated on the town at 06.00, the various characters introduce their respective traits into the story. The tension mounts and the over-spills are often nervy, sleazy and poignant.

The makers don't soft soap the situations, but they do dangle shards of sympathy. As is the case with Hurley, who is a cold blooded killer, we know and witness this, but his back story is that of a war hero, he also has a deep affection for his injured older pal, somewhere along the line a good man lost his balance. Dottie Vale (Sterling) is a dancer, street wise and aware of how to play the situation, but sadness resides behind her waspish tongue. Kay Garven (Smith) is a lost cause, she will do anything and trample on anyone to save herself. One of the best sequences in the film finds Garven throwing herself at Hurley, the rest goes on behind closed doors, but we know what happens and it adds spice to what follows in the final third.

Not all of the characters work for dramatic impact, such as Hunnicutt's talkative miner who wanders in to the plot at the mid-point (it's amazing how easy everyone finds it to get into this supposedly secure military site!), but the dynamics work wonderfully well. Weaklings, heroes in waiting, the forlorn, the foolish or the borderline psychotic, they all make for a potent and spicy psychological stew. The suspense angle of the impending bomb detonation is water tight, as is the ebbing away of Bart Moore, directer Powell never resorts to cheap tactics or clichés to keep the noose tight, and we are constantly wondering just who, if anyone? Will survive the ordeal.

Once daylight disappears and we leave the scorching Mojave vistas behind, night time envelopes the ghost town and ace cinematographer Musuraca brings his atmospheric magic. Webb scores it with dramatic verve and the RKO effects team (headed by Harold Wellman) do sterling work to pull it all together without cheap and tacky baggage. Powell gets great performances out of McNally, Kelly, Sterling, Egan and Smith, while his ability to not let the logic holes dominate the narrative belies the fact that this was his first directing assignment.

From the ominous opening shot of two men fleeing over sun-baked mud flats, to the thrilling and darkly tinged denouement, Split Second is a coiled spring waiting to explode. 8/10

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