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  Five Minutes to Live Psycho Schemer
Year: 1961
Director: Bill Karn
Stars: Johnny Cash, Donald Woods, Cay Forrester, Pamela Mason, Vic Tayback, Ron Howard, Merle Travis, Midge Ware, Norma Varden, Leslie Kimmell, Marge Waller, Patricia Lynn, Frances Flower, Hanna Landy
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Gangster Fred Dorella (Vic Tayback) has a story to tell about someone he knew: Johnny Cabot (Johnny Cash), one of the meanest gunmen around who was wanted for machine-gunning a cop to death. He was lying low at a motel in town, strumming his guitar until Dorella contacted him to say the coast was clear and he had a new job for him, which by and by he did. He called Johnny to a bowling alley nearby to outline the plan, a simple bank robbery that couldn't fail...

After a few television guest appearances in an acting capacity, Five Minutes to Live was the first movie for country and western singer Johnny Cash, and a starring role to boot. It wasn't a particularly major work, and in spite of the star's name it never won high status, not as high as his music would offer him at any rate, but the fact that it gave viewers the opportunity to see one of the Kings of Country, The Man in Black himself, act like a psycho killer was enough to provide enjoyment, even if it was only of the novelty variety as Cash threw himself into the part with gusto.

The other title of this was Door-to-Door Maniac, a later version that apparently had extra footage (of violence, natch), which makes it sound as if the Johnny character was visiting a bunch of neighbours one by one and acting all crazy with them, which was not the case. Actually the only door-to-door aspect was that Cabot posed as a salesman to get into the target's house, or rather the wife of the target. Dorella has been watching this place to plan his robbery to the split second - watching the clock is very important in this film - and while he takes care of the bank manager, Wilson (Donald Woods), Johnny will hold his wife Nancy (Cay Forrester, who also wrote the script) hostage.

This being quiet smalltown America they're dealing with, a location Johnny makes no bones about despising, nobody expects hardened criminals to descend there, so the robbers have the element of the unexpected on their side. As we have already seen that Cabot has no qualms about killing people, witness his treatment of the girlfriend he has been staying with at the motel all that time, so we know he could very well murder Nancy should be feel it necessary. Once inside her home, he reveals his true colours, and waits with her to get the call from Dorella that the bank job has gone to plan.

If not, it's curtains for Nancy, and this feeling of power the pistol-wielding Cabot gets over her leads him to some nasty behaviour, first smashing her ornaments and then attempting rape, which is foiled at the last minute but only because her upcoming murder is more pressing. So you see, Cash was not bothered about how this kind of movie might have reflected on his public image, if anything this type of thing enhanced his bad boy reputation - you cannot imagine his contemporary Elvis Presley portraying such a scummy character, for example, which might explain why Five Minutes to Live was so obviously low budget. Also of interest was that Ron Howard played the Wilson son, back at the same time he was on The Andy Griffith Show, and he takes a pivotal role in this for the would-be thrilling climax when the police catch up. Yes, it all ends as you'd expect, but Cash was reason enough to see it - meaner than his Columbo appearance. Music by Gene Kauer, though Cash sung a couple of tunes too.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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