A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (10th November 2018).
The Film

Let’s round up the posse and hit the dusty trail again partners, I have yet another Spaghetti Western from my pals at Kino Lorber. With a catchy title like ""A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die" I was practically salivating at the thrills yet to come, but this film was lacking the needed artistic vision of Spaghetti Western master Sergio Leone and even the soundtrack composed by veteran Carlo Rustichelli was simply okay, thus making the film seem somewhat second rate because there was no commanding central theme song.

Looking back at the production I realized that this film was more a homage to a typical Hollywood western than glorified Spaghetti style film, though there are plenty of scenes of senseless killing, extended torture and other trademark signatures of the genre. Possibly the problems stem from even before filming began: the film was originally intended to be directed by Sergio Corbucci and the cast was to include Raffaella Carrà and Renzo Palmer. Instead we have Alex Cord as McCord as the anti-hero with quick hands, and starring another Hollywood name, Arthur Kennedy as the headstrong Tuscosa Marshal Roy W. Colby. Showing up in the final act of the film is Robert Ryan as the governor of New Mexico Lem Carter; yet another familiar Hollywood face, a year prior before starring in Sam Peckinpah’s Anti-Western "The Wild Bunch" (1969). However even with all of this talent on hand, the film seems overly long and is almost a retelling of Howard Hawks' "El Dorado" (1967) with John Wayne in the lead role.

The film begins with two men on the run through a field obviously being pursued by some men on horseback. The two men manage to hide from their trackers by diving into a nearby river and swim to safety. Clay McCord (Alex Cord) is the leader of the duo and we learn that he has a substantial bounty of $10,000 dollars on his head; his pal Fred Duskin (Giampiero Albertini) is also a wanted man but his bounty is not as grand. The two are trying to make their way to the New Mexican town of Tuscosa, where the governor has announced that he is granting amnesty to any wanted man given that he elects to give up his illegal habits and settle down. Why the governor would want to populate his territory with a collection of former outlaws is never explained and his motivation remains a mystery. Even though the governor of the state has made an open declaration of his intentions, Marshal Roy Colby (Arthur Kennedy) is having none of it. Colby has his men waiting outside of town setting up road blocks in order to capture and kill any offenders that want to apply for amnesty. Included in this old time A.P.B. are orders to stop any bounty hunters that may be on the lookout for stray outlaws, in order to make some easy money. One of the major problems with McCord’s plan to make it to Tuscosa is his failing health. Apparently stricken with an unknown malady, McCord is seized by attacks that leave him vulnerable and helpless thus his partnership with Duskin. McCord mentions that he wants to go to the town of Escondido where a priest lives that he believes can help drive the demons out of his body, but Father Santana is killed by Kraut (spaghetti regular Mario Brega) a sadistic leader of a group of villains that are basically terrorizing the town. This is where the film dips into meaner territory as one of Kraut’s men shoots a woman in the back because she was seeking vengeance on Kraut for killing her husband and son which happened earlier in the film. Her family members were readily dispatched by a couple of cowardly bounty hunters (José Canalejas and Lorenzo Robledo) who will reappear again in the closing moments of the extended European cut of the film. McCord flees the town of Escondido hoping to make it to the safety of Tuscosa but now he is being sought by two groups; the men that follow Colby and Kraut’s outlaws are both hot on his trail. A wounded McCord then holes up with Laurinda (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and she tends to his wounds. McCord was hoping to see the town doctor concerning his condition but is informed by Laurinda that the doc was strung up for cheating at cards a few days before. One of the reasons McCord is so hostile towards mankind in general is revealed in a telling flashback. McCord is a young boy and he witnesses his father withering in the street suffering an epileptic fit and in a fit of rage McCord steals a nearby pistol and kills all of the laughing men. This scene had the potential to be played many ways, but Giraldi simply cuts away from the slaughter as if it were an ordinary event. When I think of how Leone would have developed this flashback like he did in "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) with Charles Bronson’s character, I can see the wasted opportunity. This scene would give McCord the necessary motivation to illustrate why he became a gunslinger and it harkens back to the 1939 Busby Berkeley vehicle, "They Made Me a Criminal". I can almost hear McCord yelling at the top of his lungs, “They made me do it.” But this is all wishful thinking on my part as the film continues to lumber forward to its predictable conclusion.

So we have Colby telling McCord that there’s no way that an outlaw like McCord is going to be given a clean bill of amnesty and Kraut still seeking revenge for his fallen man with McCord trapped in the middle of two sides of bad. This leads to a well done scene where a wounded McCord is recovering from an operation on his back to remove a bullet from an older injury that was pressing on his spine causing the paralysis. He wasn’t suffering from Epilepsy after all! Partnered with the Governor in a ramshackle house, they two are surrounded by gunmen on all sides when someone decides to set fire to the roof. Luckily there is a cache of dynamite stored in the house and a trapdoor that leads underground, so that the duo make their escape with a burning fuse leading to the TNT, thus blowing their enemies to kingdom come. Back in town, the Governor is witness to McCord, the outlaw, signing the declaration of amnesty and with fifty dollars in his pocket; he rides off into the distance.

Now that everything has been nicely tied up in a tidy bow, American audiences can go home happily secure in the knowledge that crime certainly doesn’t pay and that the villains were readily ousted. European audiences were given an extended film and we have the ability to see a poorly preserved clip from a Japanese laser disc that shows the two bounty hunters violently shooting down McCord as he rides his horse away. The two men find the signed document that inform them that McCord is now a non-wanted man and that there is no bounty on his head because he has been absolved of all past offences. The two human vultures split the fifty dollars and leave an unburied corpse behind. Roll the credits!

Video

Presented in widescreen 1.78:1 mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, this is the shorter English version of the film, the Italian cut is 20 minutes longer and features a darker ending. For this release a brand-new master was created from a 4k scan of the original camera negative.” (10K Bullets). The presentation is specked at times but looks great otherwise; colors are strong and blacks are presented vividly.

Audio

There is only a single source of audio and that is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio track. The audio track is ordinary and the soundtrack by Carlo Rustichelli is pedestrian. Subtitles are only in English.

Extras

Alex Cox provides a film long audio commentary to the film and is his usual gregarious self, filled with all types of knowledge regarding the film and its participants.

Extended International Ending, sourced from an analog source in high definition (5:23).

The film's original theatrical trailer (3:29) is included.

There are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "Navajo Joe" (1:50)
- "A Fistful of Dollars" (2:24)
- "The Mercenary" (1:53)
- "Death Rides a Horse" (1:21)
- "A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck, You Sucker)" (3:25)

Packaging

Packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

"A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die" is a lesser known film within the cannon of the Spaghetti Western genre and provides a night of entertainment for fans.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B-

 


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