Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die

What a great premise for a movie: An outlaw, tired of the life, decides to get an amnesty offered by the governor of the territory, and along the way, he has to avoid other outlaws, lawmen, and bounty hunters.  Unfortunately, the plot of A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die reads better than its execution on film.

This 1967 movie stars Alex Cord as Clay McCord, an outlaw who is lightning fast with his gun and has a $10,000 reward dead or alive on his head, but otherwise bears no resemblance to Kid Curry.  He does, however, suffer from periodic seizures, most noticeable in the uncontrollable shaking of his gunhand.  He thinks it is caused by epilepsy because his father had the condition and, because his father was laughed at and scorned, McCord tries, rather unsuccessfully, to hide his seizures when they occur.  Naturally, I was reminded of Pete Duel when seeing this in A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die.

McCord ends up in the outlaw-run village of Escondido, New Mexico, and various nasty things happen there.  He is eventually able to leave and makes his way to Tuscosa in the same territory, where Marshal Colby, played by Arthur Kennedy, offers amnesty and $50 to outlaws who give up their evil ways.  He is acting on behalf of the Governor, Lew Carter, ably acted by Robert Ryan.  This politician in A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is quite a contrast from the Wyoming governors seen in ASJ.

The climax of A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is set at an isolated cabin that was similar to the one in The Day the Amnesty Came Through.  Here, McCord waits for the Governor, just like Kid and Heyes waited for Lom in that episode.  But what actually happens is more similar to the events in Stagecoach 7 than the events in the third season episode.

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is a spaghetti Western--the credits show lots of Italians worked on this film—and it has the requisite long close-ups of unemotional actors’ faces and the overwrought music that swells at important plot points yet is absent for long periods of time in other parts of the movie.  But A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die never reaches the level of quality of the great spaghetti Westerns and at 98 minutes, just manages to avoid being too long.  However, the Italian version of this movie is twenty minutes longer and has a different ending, so the additional scenes might make it much more coherent and memorable.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No Name on the Bullet

Audie Murphy stars as John Gant, whom we first encounter riding alone on the prairie, stopping to ask directions to Lordsburg at an isolated farmhouse. The scene then shifts to a town which, as this is a Universal production, was obviously filmed on their Western set.

The hotel with gingerbread decoration on the porch and balcony railings, often seen in ASJ episodes, is clearly recognizable. There is a saloon on the corner but the surrounding architecture differs from that seen in the TV show so I am not sure if it is the same one depicted in many episodes. The interior of the hotel resembles that of the hotel in Dreadful Sorry, Clementine but again, since it’s not identical, I cannot be sure that it is the same set. The director of No Name on the Bullet, Jack Arnold, also directed several ASJ episodes: Something to Get Hung About, Which Way to the O.K. Corral?, The Clementine Ingredient, Bushwhack!, and What Happened at the XST?.

Gant, whose name conjures up Walter Brennan’s Gant in Twenty-one Days to Tenstrike even though that’s just a nickname, approaches a blacksmith’s forge to have his horse seen to. There, he meets Luke Canfield, played by Charles Drake, and his father, Asa, played by R.G. Armstrong (Max in The Bounty Hunter). Luke is a doctor and veterinarian and Asa is the blacksmith. They are the good guys of No Name on the Bullet.

Although baby-faced like Kid Curry, the similarity between Curry and Gant is only superficial. As Gant explains later in No Name on the Bullet, “I use my gun for money and I don’t like to use it for nothing.” It turns out that Gant is a hired gun, an assassin according to the sheriff. He has more in common with Danny Bilson since he is known for prodding men into trying to kill him, whereupon he then manages to kill his intended victim legally, claiming self-defense.

No Name on the Bullet is a psychological drama that maintains its suspense throughout. Everyone in town wonders who Gant has come to kill and slowly, like the chess game he and Luke play--an apt metaphor for the film--the pieces fall into place. As Gant says, “Everyone has enemies,” and he seems to delight in seeing townsfolk, such as the banker, Thad Pierce (interesting name, that!) fall apart. Luke, his fiancĂ© and her ill father, a judge, along with the sheriff, all try to stop Gant in various ways. The climax and finale of this 1959 movie will surprise most viewers.

A few other notes about this 77-minute long film: It was written by Gene L. Coon of future Star Trek fame, the music at times seemed overwrought, and Bud Westmore did the make-up for No Name on the Bullet as he did for the Pilot.

Thanks to this film, I have finally figured out what those cone-shaped objects seen so frequently on tables in saloons in ASJ are. They are ashtrays! Early in No Name on the Bullet, there is a very clear close-up of one of them; the top is open and filled with matches, and the tray on the bottom had lit cigars resting in it. It is very nice to have at long last solved that mystery!