Friday, January 29, 2016

#1,992. A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (1968)

Directed By: Franco Giraldi

Starring: Alex Cord, Arthur Kennedy, Robert Ryan

Tag line: "That's all McCord gives them!"

Trivia: The American version of this film was cut by 16 minutes, and featured a different ending

Outlaw Clay McCord (Alex Cord) is the fastest gun in the west, and over the years he’s left plenty of dead bodies in his wake. But recently, his shooting hand has been acting up on him, shaking uncontrollably whenever he’s in a tight spot. Fearing he may have inherited his father’s epilepsy, Clay bids goodbye to his longtime partner Fred (Giampiero Albertini) and heads to the town of Tuscosa, where, on the authority of Governor Lem Carter (Robert Ryan), Marshal, Roy Colby (Arthur Kennedy) is handing out pardons to wanted criminals, promising a clean record and $50 cash to anyone ready to turn over a new leaf.

On his way to Tuscosa, McCord makes a stop in Escondido, a town controlled by a shady profiteer named Krant (Mario Brega), to visit an old friend of his, who happens to be a doctor (and might be able to cure his ailment). After gunning down one of Krant’s men for shooting a widow (Rosa Palomar) in cold blood, McCord shacks up with Laurinda (Nicoletta Machiavelli), a pretty brunette, who informs him that Krant killed his friend the doctor a few days earlier for cheating at cards. McCord’s bad luck continues when he finally reaches Tuscosa, where Marshal Colby tells him that under no circumstances will a criminal with a record as long as his be given amnesty. Fortunately for McCord, the Governor sees things differently, and makes a special trip to the territory to personally sign the outlaw’s pardon (in the hopes it will convince other lawbreakers to also turn in their guns). But before he’s granted his freedom, McCord will have to face off against Krant, who is looking to avenge the death of his minion.

Directed by Franco Giraldi, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is, in some ways, a typical Italian western, featuring a strong anti-hero who’s quick with a gun and relies on his wits to get him out of tricky situations. Alex Cord delivers a fine performance as the gunslinger ready to hang up his pistols, and Hollywood veterans Arthur Kennedy and Robert Ryan shine in their all-too-brief roles as the lawmen trying to make a difference (though they do stick around for the film’s exciting finale). And while it’s not filled to its breaking point with action scenes, the movie does have its share of thrills (one in particular, where McCord battles a posse that murdered innocent people, reveals just how fast he is on the draw).

The only thing I didn’t really care for was the film’s score. It’s not that the music (composed by Carlo Rustichelli) was terrible so much as it was uninspired, lacking the intense style that Ennio Morricone brought to such Sergio Leone masterpieces as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West (there wasn’t even a catchy theme song, a la Django or They Call Me Trinity). This aside, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is a solid western, with great locations (the town of Escondido was appropriately dingy and dusty), a tough-as-nails main character, and a story of redemption that proves more satisfying than the standard fare.

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