Friday, May 28, 2004

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die
Amnesty Italiano

It was bound to be that time right?

Yup, on Tuesday, Spaghetti Western A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die was issued on DVD.

Actually, it was sort of fortunate I caught it because I had never heard of it before. Once I saw the title though, it became pretty obvious what sort of fare it was going to be.

We'll file this one under the Gunslingers with a Physical Malady subgenre. There are some where it only has to do with their character like the mute Silence in the The Great Silence. Then there are those whose plot projection is directly influenced by their affliction. Minnesota Clay in the film of the same name could at any moment lose his already failing eyesight. In these cases of course, their problems tend to crop up at the most inopportune moments, namely when they're staring down the barrel of a gun.

So let's synopsize...

Outlaw Clay McCord is caught in a decision between continuing his criminal lifestyle in a community of bandits and thieves, or to try for the amnesty offered by the governor out of the small town of Tuscosa and risk being killed by rogue lawmen and bounty hunters. The primary tie breaker is the increasing amount of fits he has which resemble his father's fight with epilepsy, and that Clay is terrified will leave him paralyzed while in harm's way.

For the most part, the film was beautifully photographed like so many spaghetti's. It does, however, feature again some of the absolute worst day-for-night shots I've ever seen. I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I treat a lot of the open space sort of bluish looking shots as being just before dawn. However, this one had shots in the woods where things were dark only in the mid-ground, but not dark enough in the foreground and nigh on to daylight in the background. The transfer, on the whole, was quite nice and crisp except during some of these darker scenes where the grain shot through the roof and patchy lighter spots scrolled through the frame. I know all that makes it sound terrible, but seriously four-fifths of the movie do look spectacular.

Like many spaghetti stories, it hangs a little too loose, and relies too much on sheer genre convention to exonerate them from explaining the happenings. For instance, Mario Brega appears as an actor in the film. Now Mario Brega always played heavies, bad guys. So when he shows up here, you know he's a bad guy, and that's pretty much where it ends. He's just bad for the sake of being bad. Certainly there are some examples of that, and they sort of touch on how he's even squeezing his own town full of outlaws for their last dime. In the end though, he's just a bad guy.

Fortunately, Clay McCord, played by Alex Cord is an interesting enough protagonist. Through the conventional use of the horrifying expository flashback, you see a young Clay paralyzed with fear at his father's crippling illness. Perhaps most chilling is the one where the townspeople began to taunt and harass Clay and his father, who's in the throes of a seizure, leading young Clay to lift his father's pistol from the dirt and begin blasting. My problem with Clay McCord has a little more to do with Alex Cord. He certainly looks the part, and he moves with that feline grace of the gunfighter; however, and it could just be the sound job on the film, but he has a somewhat nasal and muffled voice akin to Dustin Hoffman. Let's just say it lacks the grit and gruff of a Clint Eastwood. All in all though, he puts in a good show. Besides which, Clay's fits and his repetitive ass-beatings when at his most vulnerable are more than enough to win your sympathy. And when he shoots, Clay's certainly badass enough to win your admiration.

Of note, this film has a strong supporting female, so if you know the genre you spend a great deal of time trying to figure out when they're gonna marry or when she's gonna get shot. (I won't tell you what happens to this one...)

Now if you've read enough of my reviews that are discussions about spaghettis you may be wondering why I enjoy them if I can already guess what's gonna happen so well. If you are wondering that, then you are missing the point. Half the fun is trying to figure out the where's and when's. It's not like the movies all went exactly in the same order. Also, part of the allure of these movies is that they would do many of the same things, it was just that they came up with wacky and creative ways of doing it. Of note here was the shootout in the church tower which featured some crazy moving camerwork not often seen in these movies.

For me anyhow, it was well worth the time.

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Ok. This is short because I'm out of here. Leaving work and getting on an airplane.

Cheers.

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