Dir: Franco Giraldi
Clay McCord (Alex Cord) is an outlaw with a problem. Pursued by the law wherever he goes he is also beginning to suffer increasing spasmic fits which paralyse his shooting arm. Aware that this will increase his vulnerability to danger and also afraid that it is the onset of epilepsy (a condition which led to the death of his father) McCord sets out, first in search of a doctor, then in search of the amnesty being offered by the Governer (Robert Ryan) for all outlaws in the territory. Meanwhile, the marshall of the town where the amnesty is to be handed out (Arthur Kennedy) is doing his utmost to keep any outlaws from getting in to town to gain their freedom. McCord takes refuge in an outlaw colony called Escondido situated just outside of town, takes up with a beautiful girl named Laurinda (Nicoleta Machiavelli) and awaits his chance to reach his goal while his disability becomes increasingly troublesome.
A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is a gritty, unforgiving tale of desperate people taking desperate actions in a world devoid of pity or mercy. McCord is shown to be a product of a tragic childhood, scarred by the cruelty of others and the loss of his father to a debilitating disease. The marshall, Colby, despite being a strong figure of the word of law, is shown to be filled with prejudice and cynicism. And the outlaw chief of Escondido, played by Mario Brega, is just plain mean.
So far, so good then. Sounds like a recipe for a satisfyingly bleak spaghetti full of violence and downbeat sensibilities. And in truth this is a pretty good film of its type. The mood is sombre throughout, helped by an almost gothic, Mahleresque score from Carlo Rustichelli unlike any other italian western I can think of, and there is no shortage of drama and action. What is more, it boasts an excellent cast; all of whom carry their parts very well.
The three headline actors are all first rate and, being american, add a sense of the U.S to an otherwise strictly european style western. Arthur Kennedy in particular is such a stalwart of classic 50s american westerns that it is almost disorientating to find him surrounded by such a glut of familar spaghetti faces. And there really is a glut of them. Despite most being uncredited there is a genuine plethora of genre regulars on show in this film. In fact it can be quite good fun playing spot the bit part actor while watching it. The scenes in Escondido are particularly crammed with familiar faces and during the course of the film I was happily surprised at the unexpected appearance of Aldo Sambrell, Jose Manuel Martin, Francisco Sanz, Alberto Dell'Acqua and Spartaco Conversi as well as some others including the ubiquitous Lorenzo Robledo. This alone makes the film worth watching for my part. But if this wasn't enough, we are also blessed by the presence of the ever beautiful Nicoletta Machiavelli, filling her role with just the right mix of bravery and vulnerability. Miss Machiavelli, for me, is one of the top three female spaghetti stars (along with Rosalba Neri and Nieves Navarro) and always brings a touch of class to any film she is connected with.
Alex Cord also makes a pretty good impression in his only spaghetti outing; combining sultry moodiness with a competent display of emotion and fear during his seizures. This combination of strength and weakness is something I really enjoy seeing in a spaghetti western. The hero figure hanging on to what is left of his skill and power while a crippling disability gradually destroys him is a compelling mix and one used to good effect in a number of westerns of both Euro and U.S variety. From the consumptive decay of Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine to the creeping blindness of Minnesota Clay there is a litany of tragic heroes littering the shootouts of the west and adding genuine drama to the genre. A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is another to add to the list.
Unfortunately, however, there are some down sides to the film which detract from its overall power and stop me rating it as one of the best. Primary among these faults is the poor and eratic editing which cause the film to appear jumpy and uncohesive in parts. The opening sequences in particular are jumpy to say the least and it gets the film off to a poor start which it struggles to overcome even though things improve as it goes along. How much of this is the fault of the film's editor, Alberto Gallitti, is debatable as it was obvious to me that the version of the film I saw (though boasting a very good print and sound quality) had some major chunks cut out from it. This was confirmed by the varying lengths of the film I have seen documented for varying releases. So it is probably unfair to blame the original film makers for this problem but it does, unfortunately, take the edge off of what is otherwise a very good film.
Giraldi's direction also, while competent, really doesn't grab the attention and leave a lasting impression and this is a shame. There is ample opportunity in this flick to really make a splash and apart from the odd scene, it is never really taken advantage of. I'm afraid that this is a common criticism I have with Giraldi, whose films commonly feature very good qualities but lack the consistency necessary to elevate them above the average.
That being said, however, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is still a film I would recommend as its pluses defininitely outweigh its minuses and it is still an above average, solid 3 star film. And in any case, it's got Nicoletta Machiavelli in it. What more do you want?