Right to get one of my usually gripes out of the way with, some people call "Split Second" film-noir, whilst it has elements of what made a movie film-noir for me it is only a solid black & white thriller, nothing more. But as black & white thrillers go it isn't bad and not only has an interesting premise of a group of people being held hostage in an atomic bomb test area but has interesting dynamics between the various people. It is credit to Dick Powell in his first movie behind the camera that "Split Second" keeps hold of your attention but in the end it is probably a movie memorable for its ending rather than anything else.
With less than 24 hours to go till an atom-bomb test is planned to go off reporter Larry Fleming (Keith Andes) finds him pulled from covering it to cover the story of escaped convict Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally). But as he makes his way to Carson City to cover the story not only does Larry find himself travelling with the pretty Dottie (Jan Sterling) who he offers a lift to but also face to face with Sam who holds them up for their car. Larry and Dottie are not the only ones Sam holds up and a whole group of them end up in an abandoned mining town in the middle of the atomic test zone with the time ticking down to the detonation.
Whilst not the focus of the movie the most memorable aspect of "Split Second" is the ending and it should be no surprise when I say that it is a race against time during those final minutes. But what is most memorable about it is not that it is more far fetched than Indiana Jones escaping the blast in a fridge but the visual impact because seeing the abandoned gold mining town destroyed by the blast is impressive. In fact it is so visually impressive that I am sure back in 1953 "Split Second" must have wowed audiences.
But the ending to "Split Second" is not what the movie is about, instead it is about the people who find themselves being held prisoner by Sam and how they interact and deal with things. There is a doctor's wife who looks down her nose at Dottie because basically Dottie is a tough good time girl yet it is the wife who will do anything including cuddling up to Sam to secure her safety. There is also Larry; an archetype good guy who tries to talk Sam around and when needs be tries to fight for their freedom. And there are more and it is how these characters all interact which is where it tries to be entertaining and I say tries because whilst it does it is not brilliant, not that tense or dramatic in many ways just typical.
In a way it is a shame that things aren't more dramatic and tense because "Split Second" features a good cast with Stephen McNally delivering a solid performance as a bad guy and user of people whilst Keith Andes is perfectly cast as good guy Larry. In truth the most interesting characterisations come from Jan Sterling as Dottie and Alexis Smith as doctor's wife Kay because of the switch around in character as Kay turns out to be the shallow one and Dottie the strong one.
What this all boils down to is that "Split Second" is an entertaining 1950s thriller which with the added element of featuring the atomic bomb does keep you entertained. But afterwards the only thing you really remember is the stunning ending which even now 60 years after it was made is still impressive.