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.