Saturday, August 27, 2011

#386. Five Minutes to Live (1961)

Directed By: Bill Karn

Starring: Johnny Cash, Donald Woods, Cay Forrester

Tag line: "How could she extend the moments he had given her?"

Five Minutes to Live is a heist movie starring, of all people, music legend Johnny Cash, who, making his big-screen debut, takes on the part of a sadistic criminal. In the opening scene, Cash, along with an accomplice, are attempting to rob a warehouse in New Jersey. When the police burst in, a shoot-out ensues, during which Cash picks up an automatic weapon and blows one of the cops away. 

How have I never heard of this film before? 

Cash plays Johnny Cabot, a lifetime thief and part-time killer whose always on the lookout for the perfect score, and fellow crook Fred Dorella (Vic Tayback) thinks he may have found it. Inviting Johnny to partner up with him, Dorella plans to rob a small town bank without even so much as a gun. Instead, Cabot will take Nancy Wilson (Cay Forrester), the pretty wife of the bank's vice president (Donald Woods) hostage, and remain with her in her house while Dorella, posing as a depositor, demands that her husband turn over $70,000 in cash. If he refuses, Cabot will kill his wife. But things take an unexpected turn when the bank manager confesses to the would-be thief that he intends to divorce his wife, and is running off to Las Vegas with another woman (Pamela Mason) that very night. 

A taut thriller, Five Minutes to Live also reveals why Johnny Cash didn't appear in that many movies. In short, as an actor, he's a pretty good singer. That's not to say his performance was terrible; in fact, he does an admirable job in the scenes where Cabot loses control, violently lashing out at his hostage (at one point, even suggesting that he intends to rape her). Fortunately, the filmmakers also gave his character a guitar, and let him play it from time to time (Cash also wrote and performed the film's catchy title song), ensuring that, at the very least, we catch a few glimpses of him doing what he does best. 

The remainder of the cast, including a six-year-old Ron Howard as the banker's son, is solid, and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat. With a few hints of film noir effectively tossed into the mix, Five Minutes to Live amounts to much more than a mere curiosity, or the answer to a trivia question. Well paced and suspenseful, Five Minutes to Live is also an entertaining movie.

No comments: