Split Second


A little behind the scenes info on this good B noir

In Fall 1952, controlling stock of RKO was held by some half dozen people based in Chicago, a group headed by Ralph Stolkin. The Wall Street Journal exposed the involvement of Stolkin and some of the other men in gambling, racketeering and mail-order scams, leading them to resign. For a good 6 months RKO was basically headless and frozen, while the studio fielded a lawsuit involving Jean Simmons and searched for both a new boss and someone to buy the stock. Howard Hughes offered Dick Powell the opportunity to be RKO head, but Powell decided he’d rather produce and direct, and Split Second was not only his first feature film project, but ended up being the only movie RKO filmed during that bumpy period. By spring of 1953 stock and control returned to Hughes, James Grainger became president, and his son Edmund acted as producer on Split Second.


This is an interesting noir where escaped cons Stephen McNally and Paul Kelly (both give really good performances) take hostages and hold them in a remote abandoned Nevada mining town, which will be recognizable to movie fans as the setting of many RKO westerns. The suspense is provided by a countdown clock, because the town waits in the shadow of an atomic bomb test. Meanwhile, Paul Kelly was wounded and needs medical attention. The cast includes Keith Andes, Alexis Smith playing a cold witch, Jan Sterling as a nightclub performer, and Richard Egan as Smith’s ex who is the doctor called upon to help Kelly. No spoiling but there’s some quality comeuppance in store when the bomb goes off. Thanks to Powell’s fine job his first time as director, the movie had good twists and tension, a fast pace, a nice mix of the diverse characters and plotlines, a great look for a B and an exciting climax.

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