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Split Second (1953)

 -  Crime | Drama | Film-Noir  -  2 May 1953 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 675 users  
Reviews: 28 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)

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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


Action! See more »


Approved | 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?


Hurley & gang are in the car driven by Kay Garven and her fur coat is laid over the seat. In an ensuing scene the coat is missing and is back in another scene. See more »


Larry Fleming: You don't think very much of people, do you?
Sam Hurley: I don't think very much of anything.
See more »


Referenced in Skullduggery (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

It only takes a split second decision to change your life…
30 May 2008 | by (Brisbane, Australia) – See all my reviews

As the credits rolled across the opening scene, I lost interest in the words as I tried to figure out what I was looking at: a high angle shot of a shimmering expanse that looked like slick, crazy paving, and with muted, keyed lighting spilling down the screen centre, almost like a searchlight. I blinked more than once, trying to focus properly, and then saw the two, long, moving shadows that eventually resolved to the silhouettes of two men running towards me, on what now showed itself to be the cracked and parched desert earth. As they disappeared off camera, I knew those men were running for their lives...

From that superb opener, the rest of this story unfolds with relentless fury as the two – escapees from a penitentiary – join a third, with an escape car, and set off to retrieve a cache of cash from a secret location. The convicts are Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally, in one his best roles), Bart Moore (Paul Kelly) with a bullet in his stomach, acquired in the break-out, and Dummy (Frank De Kova) who only says what he wants with a gun.

The three stop for gas where Hurley quickly displays his psychopathology when he casually kills the attendant who resists; Hurley's action is almost like swatting a fly. They wait then for their next victim – because the cops are looking for three escaped cons, and they want to cover their tracks.

A large limo pulls in for gas, and the cons force their way into the car where Kay Garven (Alexis Smith) and Arthur Ashton (Robert Paige) are in the throes of a love affair that, from the intro between the two a few scenes earlier, appears to be going sour. So, the whole party continues under Hurley's surly orders and direction. That is, until they run out of gas – something Kay forgot to tell Hurley, much to his displeasure. So, they sit at the road side, and wait for another useful victim...

And that soon arrives in the form of Larry Fleming (Keith Andes), a well known news reporter and Dottie Vale (Jan Sterling), an attractive blonde down on her luck and just hitching a ride with Larry. So, when they stop to help Kay who was acting as bait, Hurley once again steps in to step on Larry's plans this time. Good job Larry had a much bigger car – a station wagon that can accommodate all seven of them.

Hurley then tells Larry to drive to a ghost town in the desert where he will link up with another con with another vehicle, due late that night. But first, he has to get Bart fixed up, get that bullet out with the help of Dr Garven (Richard Egan), Kay's estranged husband. Hurley calls the doctor on a phone and tells him he'll kill Kay if he fails to come and fix Bart...

The last piece of the setup falls into place when Larry tells Hurley that the ghost town is only a mile from ground zero: a nuclear test is due for detonation at 6 the next morning. Hurley doesn't care: he's got plenty of time, he thinks. Unknown to all of them, however, that time is changed to 5 a.m. to take advantage of the good weather.

With that all in place, the action is then contained on a single stage for the next hour, as the clock ticks down to zero hour and as Hurley waits to get Bart fixed. Later, old Asa Tremaine (Arthur Hunnicutt) turns up to provide pivotal support for the other hostages, and almost steals the show, for my money.

Director Powell – one of my favorite film-noir actors – does an excellent job as a first-timer behind the camera: well done interlaced editing as the separate stories are shown and eventually come together at the ghost town; appropriate black and white photography; and a well constructed claustrophobic mise-en-scene in the ramshackle bar in the ghost town – reminiscent of that rundown hotel in Key Largo (1948) as the hurricane approaches. Add to that the standard footage showing the preparations to detonate an atom bomb, and the viewer is set for a taut nail-biter.

McNally surpasses all in this film and delivers some of the best lines, along with Jan Sterling. Paul Kelly is very effective as Hurley's older friend – but one who begins to question Hurley's judgment. And Frank De Kova is chillingly dangerous, at all times. Alexis Smith is the quintessential, low-life femme fatale, who makes the fatal error of hitching a ride with Hurley. Keith Andes is credible but somewhat wooden, to be kind, but does show the spunk of heroes when danger beckons. Arthur Hunnicutt is, as usual, the consummate old-timer of the desert – and has the means to save the hostages from nuclear annihilation. Lucky for them.

There're a number of themes, of course: greed, loyalty, and courage being the obvious ones. It's the interaction between Hurley and Bart Moore, however, that's fascinating: Hurley, a psychologically damaged WW2 veteran who can't stop killing but who recognizes something he needs in Bart's presence, almost like a brother. Or, was it just the money?

It's a B movie, for sure, but it's one of the best I've seen. Recommended for all film noir fans.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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