Cass Bunning (Richard Lapp) is riding across the desert when he catches sight of a rattlesnake about to kill a baby rabbit, so he steps in and shoots the reptile's head clean off. He considers himself an excellent shot and feels he's done a good deed, but straight after a group of three men ride up and their leader (Robert Random) inquires of him what the shooting was about. When Cass explains, the stranger is none too pleased, so he changes the subject and asks him about Silver City which is his destination, though the stranger is none too friendly on that either, telling him the town is expecting a new arrival: a young woman who has no idea of what's in store...
A Time for Dying was the final Western for two legends of the genre, first it was the last one directed by Budd Boetticher, an old hand at this for whom it represented his last fictional movie as he had so much trouble securing funding for his projects, and second Audie Murphy who had helped him out by producing this and filming a cameo as Jesse James who Cass encounters out in the middle of nowhere around halfway through. For Boetticher, it was a sad goodbye to the style of film he loved, barely getting released and even then in a version barely over the sixty minute mark: it was said Murphy tried to secure funding to beef it up, to no avail.
For Murphy, there was something elegaic about his appearance, almost as if he knew it was the last time we would see him as he would be dead in a plane crash not long after, and for his fans this represented pretty much the sole reason to sit through what had not enjoyed a particularly sunny reputation otherwise. For a start, many pointed out it resembled a television movie with its flat look and obvious sets, not to mention a cast who in the main appeared lost on the big screen - you're not so surprised you'll likely never have heard of Richard Lapp after watching his callow technique here. His leading lady was former Playboy pin-up Anne Randall, who played Nellie Winters, the woman Cass hears about from the stranger.
For all its appearance of a film made at least ten years before, there was a harder edge to this than initially met the eye because poor Nellie has arrived in Silver City thinking she will be getting a job, but doesn't realise she will be forced into prostitution at the local saloon. When her stagecoach draws up to be greeted with a near riot of horny cowboys, Cass does the decent thing and rescues her, leaving her with naught but the clothes on her back and her virtue to call her own, which leads them to a small town named Vinegaroon, where the law happens to be the eccentric and dangerous Judge Roy Bean (Victor Jory) who sees to it that when the couple are forced to share a hotel room they are hauled up before him on an indecency charge.
Jory threw himself into the role, a character who could be comic except for his tendency to kill people he likes to sentence. He doesn't do so to Cass and Nellie, but he does marry them on the spot, yet in his personality there's a lot of the mood of the movie in that on the surface it seems almost naive, then something far grimmer will occur which lends it a tone which could pull the rug from under you, or make you think the script should have found something to stick with as far as the themes went. This is all leading up to a showdown between Cass and the stranger, who he learns is the outlaw Billy Pimple, a wannabe Billy the Kid so after the episodic plotting you might not be expecting A Time for Dying to build to quite the climax it does, though the clue was in the title. Otherwise, there was an uncertainty here where one scene could have the hero and heroine are getting to know each other and falling in love, then the next someone is getting hanged on a trumped up charge. It's a deceptively bleak view of the Old West. Music by Harry Betts.