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A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die

A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die
MGM Home Entertainment
1968 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 118 min. / Un Minuto per pregare, un instante per morire / Street Date May 25, 2004 / 14.95
Cinematography Aiace Parolin
Film Editor Alberto Gallitti
Original Music Carlo Rustichelli
Written by Louis Garfinkle, Ugo Liberatore, Albert Band
Produced by Albert Band, Selig J. Seligman
Directed by Franco Giraldi

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 ++
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: none
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

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