Monday, August 17, 2015

Radiation Theater - Split Second!

Split Second, the very first movie to be directed by long time actor Dick Powell is a flick I watched when the description of its setting jumped out at me, a ghost town dead center in an atomic testing zone. It's a pretty straight-forward melodrama about escaped convicts and the hapless folks they encounter and kidnap along the way, but the context of imminent nuclear oblivion adds a wonderful pizzazz to the usual interplay.

Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally), an infamous murderer escapes along with his best bud Bart (Paul Kelly) and a silent henchman (Frank De Kova) named appropriately "Dummy" (who reads comic books by the way). The kidnap two travelers, Kay Garvin (Alexis Smith) and Alan Ashton (Robert Page), two folks on a lark while Kay gets a divorce from her doctor  husband Neal (Richard Egan). Later the gang, who have killed along the way, latch onto Larry Fleming (Keith Andes) and Dottie Vale (Jan Sterling), a reporter and a dancer respectively who are on the way to Carson City to cover Hurley's escape. Fleming had been pulled from his first assignment, the coverage of an imminent atomic test in the very region where Hurley's gang decide to hide away while Dr.Garvin comes to patch up the critically wounded Bart. Joining this cast of misfits is a prospector named Asa (Arthur Hunnicut) who adds some spice to the collection.

Now contrary to some reviews of this movie I've seen, the folks in it all know quite well that the atomic test is right around the corner and make their plans accordingly. With only limited transportation, the idea that many of them will be left behind is always a part of the tension. Hurley is a typical thug, a clever judge of character and a sadist who seems to love to needle his victims. Bart is less antagonistic while Dummy is weirdly menacing because he never talks and always does what Hurley requires in any situation. His utter lack of autonomy is strange and scary.

These folks are the usual gang with some strong in the face of almost certain death and others squeamish and even terrified at the prospect. The true natures of all come through and typically love dies and love blooms in the shadow of the mushroom cloud that does indeed figure into the film's denoument.

I recommend this movie for its oddball setting which does make comment on the nature of society during the Cold War without becoming preachy, and for the snappy dialogue which buzzes along with a pace which doesn't allow for the viewer to get too bored despite the limited sets. Much is done with little in a movie which offers up a peculiar look into life under the bomb.

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