A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die Blue-Ray review (Kino)
From The Spaghetti Western Database
When I heard that Kino was releasing a Blu-Ray of A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (1968), I was beyond excited. I was wondering if it would be the original uncut 118-minute international print that is legend among the fans of the spaghetti western genre. Sadly, this is not that fabled print, as this version runs only ninety-nine minutes. This is the U.S. theatrical cut of the film. The old MGM DVD release which stated on the back that it ran 118 minutes, was in realty only ninety-nine minutes. I am not belaboring the fact that Kino released this absolutely stunning 4k scanned print, with a rich, bold soundtrack to boot. From what I can gather, the only surviving uncut prints of the film are in horrid shape. In fact, on the Kino release as a bonus there is an “extended international ending,” which quite frankly has a more appropriate ending than the U.S. release of this film and is lifted from what I would guess was a well-worn VHS copy.
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I had a chance viewing of a fan made complete print of the film on DVD years ago and the cut scenes that were added back in are of vastly inferior quality. So, until a nice uncut print is found, the Kino release is the best there is. And quite frankly, the ninety-nine-minute print of the film really is cohesive and keeps the action flowing. Not saying that I don’t desire an uncut print of this film, but I am very happy with this release from Kino. A few things cut out that to me enhanced the film upon my viewing of the uncut print years ago, is how the governor retrieved the doctor Chase (Enzo Fiermonte) and the marshal of Tuscosa Roy W. Colby (Arthur Kennedy), after he had bashed Clay McCord (Alex Cord) in the head and caused his paralysis. And the aftermath of the deadly fight between El Bailarin (Jose Manuel Martin) and McCord. And of course that glorious ending.
What A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die does that many Italian westerns tended not to do, was to actually allow the lead anti-hero to have a bit of depth, beyond the stranger who is typically avenging a wrong against him or his family. What we get is the Clay McCord character and his legendary prowess with his gun and his battle with changes within his body and a past that constantly haunts him. Clay McCord’s father had epilepsy and young Clay paid heavily as the old man was ridiculed when an attack of “the fits” would hit him as he ventured out into public. One such incident where the old man lay convulsing in the street, seemingly began the life of crime for Clay, when he grabbed his father’s colt and opened fire on the men manically laughing and abusing the prone man.
Clay McCord is introduced running from the law over the opening credits, thus his outlaw status is instantly fixed upon him. And he is seemingly enthralled with the lifestyle until, his right arm suddenly begins to shake, and he figures that he has epilepsy, just like his father. One motivation behind McCord’s antisocial behavior was the shame, humiliation, rage that was associated with the attack of the fits, his father would experience. Clay McCord’s attacks become more and more frequent as the film progressed.
Amnesty is offered in the territory of New Mexico, and the town of Tuscosa is seemingly open to it, but in all reality a series of road blocks just outside of town prevents the outlaws from coming into town and from escaping out of the neighboring outlaw village of Escondido. A sign outside of the small, impoverished village says, “Escondido. If you ain’t wanted mister… you ain’t wanted.”
A man named Kraut (Mario Brega) runs the town of Escondido and does alright taking from the poor of the town, as he and his men live a life of luxury, buying goods and reselling it to the poor. Clay McCord though is a thorn in the side of Kraut, and all that Kraut can do is bide his time, until he has a chance to kill McCord. McCord while not sadistic or cruel, nonetheless is an outlaw, who gets by from committing numerous crimes. He does have some redeeming qualities as when he assures that the poor and hungry peons of Escondido are equipped with provisions after he rescues a wagon from some of the marshal’s men after they had stopped a group of men trying to get food to the cut-off town. When McCord finally realizes that he may need the amnesty, because of his worsening medical condition, he tries to extort more than the money allotted for turning oneself in for the amnesty. So, he visits marshal Colby and forcible insists he is worth more than the sum offered, this show of force almost backfires, when he must escape out of town with only his life to show as an active posse is upon him. After this scene plays out an elderly man rides solo into the town and begins to ask questions. Colby being the hard-ass he is, confronts the man, who turns out to be the governor of the territory of New Mexico Lem Carter (Robert Ryan). Both the Lem and the Colby characters are played as hard men of the old west. Men who live by a strong code of ethics and are not afraid to resort to violence to get their points across.
One thing that popped into my mind as the viewing process unfolded was how much the film had in common with another transgressive film the Sergio Corbucci film The Great Silence (Grande Silenzio, Il, 1968). Both films have an amnesty, bounty killers who are working for the law and a handicapped antihero. And the international ending is very close to what transpires in the original ending of The Great Silence. Both films as noted above have their lead anti-heroes as handicapped characters, Silence as a mute and McCord afflicted with what he believes is epilepsy. In fact, the “international ending” in my book is a much more fitting and ironic way to end the film, as in all reality the McCord character is an unabashed outlaw, who was never deserved of the amnesty. Even trying to use first the marshal and then the governor to extort more than the fifty dollars that the amnesty had connected with it. McCord was a social outcast, cast there because of the shame of his father, but still chose that path. Even being conceited and boastful about the price on his head and his outlaw lifestyle.
Epilepsy was featured in a few Italian westerns, including in the film Last of the Badmen (Tempo degli avvoltoi, Il, 1967), where the Frank Wolff character Joshua Terry, who between attacks, is as vicious and cruel as they come. The Luciano Rossi character in Django the Bastard (Django il bastardo, 1969) is afflicted by it, as is the O’Hara character In Death Sentence (Sentenza di morte, 1968), who is played by Tomas Milian, in one of his early heavily made-up character roles, as a blond-haired albino.
Franco Giraldi, the director of the film helmed a few other westerns, including the fun Seven Guns for the McGregors (1966) the outstanding Hunt Powers starring Sugar Colt (1966) and the wildly entertaining Up the McGregors (1967). Probably Giraldi’s two most noteworthy credits pertaining to the spaghetti westerns, would be as an assistant director on Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and as a second unit director on Sergio Corbucci’s Grand Canyon Massacre (Massacro al Grande Canyon, 1964), both first time Italian western genre directorial efforts by the two great directors of Italian westerns. The screenplay was written by Albert Band (who also produced), Louis Garfinkle and Ugo Liberatore. Band and Liberatore had previously worked together on the story and screenplays for the Band produced films The Tramplers (Uomini dal passo pesante, Gli, 1965), and the 1967 classic The Hellbenders aka Crudeli, I (Garfinkle provided additional dialogue). Alex Cord, who turns in an excellent performance, sadly only appeared in this lone Italian western, his turn in the 1966 version of Stagecoach as Ringo Kid being his other notable appearance in a western. The legendary Arthur Kennedy and Robert Ryan are both welcome additions to the cast and each has many outstanding credits. Kennedy did appear in another Euro-western of note, that being the Jeffery Hunter starring film Murieta (Joaquin Murrieta, 1965). This is Robert Ryan’s only spaghetti western appearance, but he did appear in three films that were definitely influenced by the genre, those films being The Professionals (1966), The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Lawman (1971). The rest of the cast is loaded with great Italian and Spanish character actors such as Francisco Sanz, Daniel Martin, Franco Balducci, Franco Lantieri and the beautiful Nicoletta Machiavelli, in a small part as a love interest for the McCord character.
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This release is stellar and besides the international ending, includes assorted trailers and a brilliant commentary by the always knowledgeable, interesting and amusing Alex Cox. Brilliant picture and sound quality make this a must buy for not only fans of the Italian westerns, but also western fans in general.
Thanks as always to the spaghetti western expert Tom Betts, and a shout-out to Carl Black!