johnlink ranks TWO SECONDS (1932)

I have become increasingly interested in the Pre-Code Hollywood era. These few years between the introduction of the talkie and the oversight of Hollywood (by itself, really) gave us a fascinating time of filmmaking. We think of early sound film as safe and filtered until film noir brought us all the power of the double entendre. But the early 30s really did provide some more challenging subject matter while showing murder and some leg. TWO SECONDS was a movie not at all on my radar, but it found me nonetheless.


I watched TWO SECONDS (1932) on 9.19.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

The title of this film, TWO SECONDS, references the time it takes for a man to die after the switch on the electric chair is flipped. Specifically, the movie starts with John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) being executed for some unknown crime. We learn that his life will pass before his eyes for two seconds before he is offed by the current. The plot, then, is a flashback which tells his story.

It is an interesting story. John works in New York City up on the scaffolding building the budding city’s skyscrapers. He has a friend, Bud (Preston Foster) who is engaged and on the prowl at the same time. He convinces John to go on a double date. John is reluctant because the previous blind date was a disaster. When the same girl shows up, John ducks away and into a dance hall. The halls were a sort of early-days strip club where, instead of lap dances, a girl would trot around the dance floor with you for a nickel.

John meets a dancer with a heart of gold, Shirley (Vivienne Osborne). Only her heart isn’t made of gold. After a couple of dates, she gets John drunk and then slips a pastor a ten dollar bill to ignore the fact that John is too drunk to notice that he is getting married. Bud tries to protest later that night, but Shirley kicks him out of the apartment while stripping down to her underwear as she prepares to bed her prize. As Bud and John argue up in the cities highest point the next day, an accident occurs setting off the rest of the film’s action.


That accident, shockingly, is a piece of filmmaking which would later inform Alfred Hitchock’s famous shots in VERTIGO. In fact, this entire movie is surprisingly strong. The camera moves much more fluidly than one might think a 1932 film would accomplish. The action of the film zips by, its sub 70 minute run time feeling like even less. The claustrophobic late scenes work well as madness overtakes John’s psyche. We already know where this film is headed, thanks to the open, so the story is in the journey. Watching this good man crumble is fascinating, even if it is a less than subtle jab at women as gold diggers. It also takes shots at the concepts of true love while positioning our protagonist as a hero for doing the terrible things he does. This entire film would have been censored had it been made even three or four years later.

The acting in this is serviceable, with an above average performance by the legendary Robinson. But, right at the end, this film gives him a speech to a judge and the result is an all time great film monologue, an assessment not made lightly. The high angle crushes Robinson’s already small stature as this monologue at his  sentencing is a powerful piece of acting and reveals the breaking of a good man.

I went into this movie not expecting much. I enjoyed as I watched, and found myself pulled right along. I was blown away by the last moments. While this may have a little too much stage-to-screen dialogue for some, this is a film which should be found by fans of early cinema. The print TCM ran looks and sounds great, and it is a movie I would happily add to my collection.



The bonus point is for the final monologue. If I was making a list of the top ten monologues in film history, this would jump right on easily.


FINAL SCORE: 7.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on September 20, 2014.

One Response to “johnlink ranks TWO SECONDS (1932)”

  1. Good movie !

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