Sometimes when you’re diving in the bins of Dollar movies, it’s a chore. Really on several fronts. I am a compulsive buyer and bargain hunter, so when I see flicks for a buck well I don’t hold back. This is what leads me to have two or three copies of Black Cobra (which we’ll get to one Saturday, trust me.) It can also be incredibly boring sifting through the DVDs of TV shows, romance movies, and all the Lassie you can throw a stick at, but then there are the moments when you pull something out that really makes it all worth it. Today’s movie is one of those type of films. When I pulled it out of the bin I even shuffled though to see if there were any more copies that I could give to friends, the cinematic destitute, or perhaps even horde all to myself so I could revel in their greatness. Sadly, this was the only copy they had at the old Dollar Tree, but I’m sure there are more out there just waiting for someone to find them. If you do stumble across it and love this guy like I do, then you’ll feel like you might just have….
Five Minutes to Live (1961) starring Johnny Cash, Vic Tayback, Ron Howard, Donald Woods,Merle Travis and Kay Forrester. Directed by Bill Karn.
Johnny Cabot (Cash) is on the lam, and he’s holed up in a seedy motel with only his girlfriend and his guitar to keep him company. It seems Johnny got caught up in a set up back in Jersey, and he shot a cop down in cold blood. Now all he can do is lay low in this sleepy suburban town and wait for the heat to blow over.
All that changes when a thug from back east, Fred Dorella (Tayback), starts poking around town for someone to do a job with him. Max (Travis), the toadying owner of the local bowling alley, has connections to the Jersey mob, and he recommends his friend Johnny for the job. The two hoods meet and strike a deal to rob a bank and split the proceeds. In order to gain Johnny’s trust, Fred even rats out Johnny’s girlfriend as being a one time “dancer” (read:whore). What’s a man like Johnny Cabot going to do with a dame like that? Gun her down right in their hotel room of course.
The next day the plan goes into action. Johnny is supposed to invade the home of Ken and Nancy Wilson (Forrester) and keep her on ice. It seems Ken (Woods) is the VP of the local bank, and the plan is to lean on him to give up 70 grand in exchange for his wife’s life. What the crooks don’t know is that Ken is more than a banker; he’s also a philanderer. Ken even has a plan to skip town that night with his lover, a local dressmaker. So as Johnny invades the home and keeps Nancy in the sights of his gun, Fred finds the banker less willing to give up the filthy lucre which leaves Nancy with time running out as seconds then minutes tick by.
Nancy Wilson (Forrester) and keep her on ice. It seems Ken (Woods) is the VP of the local bank, and the plan is to lean on him to give up 70 grand in exchange for his wife’s life. What the crooks don’t know is that Ken is more than a banker; he’s also a philanderer. Ken even has a plan to skip town that night with his lover, a local dressmaker. So as Johnny invades the home and keeps Nancy in the sights of his gun, Fred finds the banker less willing to give up the filthy lucre which leaves Nancy with time running out as seconds then minutes tick by.
–This is the second film for Johnny Cash. He appeared in 1944 as Band Leader Jimmy Cash in Hat Check Honey.
–Bill Karn had previously directed the films Gangbusters (1955) andMa Barker’s Killer Brood (1960) as well as some TV credits.
–Vic Tayback would memorably appear in the 1968 Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action” playing a mob boss on a world influenced by a book about the Chicago gangs of the ’30’s and ’40’s.
–The movie was also released under the title Door to Door Maniac.
The Bug Speaks
Now just because a movie had Mr. Cash in it does not always indicate a mark of quality, After all, later in his career Johnny would appear in a quite a few stinkers like The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (hell he appeared in an episode of Renegade with Lorenzo Lamas so his choice in rolls was not always top notch). However this film really hits the mark. Johnny is so young and energetic in his role that I actually could separate the music legend from the cold, brooding tough that he was portraying. He definitely jumped into the role which includes him roughing up a kid, menacing a housewife, and even attempting to rape her with little regard for how his off-screen image might fare. To see Cash acting from his darker recesses was a thrill, and my favorite moment of his is where he coldly sings to his captive a song called “Five Minutes to Live” about her impending doom. How much balls does that take to not only hold a woman at gunpoint, but to sing to her about how long she has to live?
The rest of the cast is quite good as well. It is always nice to see Vic Tayback out of the grease stained smock that he wore as Mel on TV’s Alice, and getting to chew the scenery himself. Little Ron Howard in full on Opie mode seems to have wandered right off the streets of Mayberry and into the Wilson’s home to be their son. As for the Wilsons themselves, Donald Woods underplayed the unfaithful husband to good effect and his look and acting style left me thinking of William Macy. Kay Forrester’s as the hostage Nancy was the linchpin on which the film rested. If she had not accurately portrayed the fearful wife then Johnny could brood and menace all he wanted and it would have seemed like she was humoring him. Instead she turns in a performance that is both rich and cunning. Seeing Merle Travis, the writer of country hits like “Sixteen Tons”, was also very cool and he also filled his screen time as Max with all the nerves and sweat befitting a small time operator.
The film itself isn’t going to win any awards for how it looks. The shots are workmanlike and the film was obviously made on a shoestring. However the plot seems so fresh even now that it’s a wonder that no one has remade this film. (You sure you want to retire just yet Joaquin Phoenix?) It truly is one of the best and strangest finds I have come across in the dollar bins, and if you should happen across it I do recommend you pick it up. If you can’t find it though it is available here: Five Minutes To Live on the Internet Archive to stream or download.