Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Split Second


This is a tidy little thriller made on a low budget out in the Nevada (or possibly California) desert. A dangerous killer and his buddy make a jailbreak, killing two guards in the process. But the buddy is wounded in the belly, and getting worse and worse. The pair, and a mute accomplice called “Dummy,” take a bunch of hostages, including Alexis Smith, a down-on-her-luck dancer, a reporter, and Alexis’s lover. They drive to a ghost town and hole up. The killer finds out Alexis has a doctor husband in Pasadena. He calls the doc, and tells him to get his medical ass out to the desert or he’ll kill the wife. Wife ain’t sanguine about this, as she is divorcing him. But he comes, because he still loves her.

The kicker is … there’s an atomic bomb test going off at six the next morning! It will obliterate the ghost town and anyone fool enough to still be there. (How did the doc get past all the military roadblocks? Never mind.)

It reminded me of Key Largo and The Petrified Forest, both starring Humphrey Bogart, as the bad guy in one and the good guy in the other. In both those movies a gangster is holed up somewhere remote with a lot of hostages, and we get a lot of human interaction. You find out who is brave and who is a coward. In this one Alexis is the coward, willing to do anything to entice the killer to take her away with him. The other girl, the bad one, true to form is actually the strong, decent one. You can tell because she’s not wearing a fur coat, like Alexis is. Jane Sterling plays her, as a sort of cut-rate Lauren Bacall. The great character actor Arthur Hunnicutt has a nice little role as a salty old prospector who stumbles onto the scene. Will the bomb go off? Of course it will. Will anyone get away? Hint: not the bad guys and Alexis trying to outrun the blast in a car. This was directed by Dick Powell, one of only a handful he helmed.