Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Clearly an attempt by Americans to jump on the Sergio Leone Spaghetti western bandwagon,
A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die is no more accomplished than most of the
Italian-borne efforts. A suitably cynical and action-oriented script is a terrible waste of good
actor Robert Ryan, and even with the personal quirk of the hero's paralyzed quick-draw arm,
the whole affair comes off as a half-hearted imitation of a Clint Eastwood movie.
Outlaw Clay McCord (Alex Cord) holes up in the criminal hole-in-the-wall town
of Escondido run by the evil boss Krant (Mario Brega). Back in Tuscosa, Marshall Colby (Arthur
Kennedy) isn't respecting the new state law mandating an amnesty for criminals, and there's a shootout
when McCord tries to turn himself in. McCord hides in Escondido with lovely Laurinda (Nicoletta
Machiavelli) as Krant considers him a threat. He
also fears that the frequent painful spasms in his shooting arm may be symptoms of the epilepsy that
claimed his father's life. Finally, Governor Lem Carter himself (Robert Ryan) comes to Tuscosa and
forces Colby to honor the amnesty rule. McCord makes another attempt to come clean, but the villains
of Escondido have other ideas.
Producer and writer Albert Band once worked as an executive at MGM and had a spotty career
as a talent on his own. The horror film
I Bury the Living was his doing, but
along with the likes of producer Sid Pink, he relocated to Europe to make films. His
Face of Fire was a Swedish coproduction and he did some sword 'n sandal pix in Italy.
For A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die he teamed with his American writer friend Louis
Garfinkle and an Italian, Ugo Liberatore
(The 300 Spartans,
Mill of the Stone Women). The
result is generic Spaghetti.
The script apes Leone down to the recurring flashbacks (complete with focus-pull transitions) showing
the hero as a young boy blasting down the men tormenting his epileptic father. The Psych 101
logic of the plot has McCord, yet another fastest gun in the west, traumatized that he'll
end the same way his father did.
Leone regular Mario Brega plays a brutish outlaw boss without much subtlety. Most every human
interaction in the film is capped with a gundown, and we are treated to the sight of lanky hero
Alex Cord (then a pretty hot name in Italian films) being hung by his wrists from a scaffold.
Let's see, there are also various ambushes and doublecrosses. A priest shot in cold blood by
a bounty hunter may have inspired the film's cynical title. McCord has a kissing partner for a few
scenes, but both she and any hope for a romantic angle in the picture disposed of in a quick killing. 1
Both Robert Ryan and Arthur Kennedy have short but okay cameos. Ryan's entrance as the Governor
coming into town is fairly foolish but the scenes with him offering McCord his amnesty are
okay. Without a hero to care about our interest stays low; even after Ryan has a doctor cure McCord's
arm problem with an operation, our "hero" acts aloof and ungrateful.
Director Franco Giraldi later moved on to mainly television work. His camera zooms and pans continuously
in search of
compositions and has little indication of a style to replace the lack of a formal approach to scenes.
Some good sets (the town of Escondido looks interesting) are left visually unexplored. The flashbacks
are sloppy. It's easy to appreciate Sergio Leone after this show.
Popular actor Aldo Sambrell and several other Leone regulars appear as well.
MGM's DVD of A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die is an okay transfer of a movie that looks to
have been hastily produced. The cut-in titles are dirty but the rest of the movie is in near-perfect
condition. The 1:85 image is letterboxed but not enhanced. The audio track is rather good, but the
film's music is flavorless. There are no other extras. I don't know if this is one of MGM's ABC-Buena
Vista releases; Selmur also produced
Hell in the Pacific, so maybe it is.
UK correspondent Lee Broughton informs me that the 118 minute running time on the disc is wrong and
that this is a truncated 98 minute cut. (spoiler) Among other differences, he says that in the
long cut of the movie, McCord is killed by bounty hunters after receiving his pardon.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die rates:
Movie: Fair ++
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 19, 2004
1. One of the few Spaghetti
western titles to top this one for nihilism is Heads You Die, Tails I Kill You.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson