Monday, 31 August 2009

Five Minutes to Live (1961)

Now this really is a odd one. Originally released in 1961 as Five Minutes to Live, it was re-released in 1966 as Door-to-Door Maniac. On the surface it’s a typical ultra-cheap crime B-movie, but it has some genuinely bizarre touches. The plot is ingenious, and I won’t spoil it by revealing any major details other than to say that it involves a bank robbery carried out by means of a threat to the wife of a bank executive.

Johnny Cash (who also sings the title song) plays Johnny Cabot, on the run after a warehouse robbery that went wrong. Johnny is recruited for the bank job because he has a reputation as being a careful criminal. One has to wonder how he gained that reputation, because in fact he’s totally psychotic and wildly unstable. The essence of the plan is to take advantage of the fact that the bank is located in a quiet and incredibly boring small town where all the citizens are perfect and devoted husbands and wives, so naturally the bank executive will co-operate if his wife is threatened. In fact this is where the movie starts to become something else entirely, when we see the reality behind the picture-perfect façade.

It reminds me a little of the very strange movies Sam Fuller made in the early 60s, like Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss. It seems to be attempting a blend of crime film with social satire. It also throws in some reasonably strong violence (by 1961 standards). It’s an uneasy mix of film noir, black comedy and exploitation movie.

That might make it sound like a ground-breaking film, which it might have been had it been done with any real sense of style, or even a basic level of film-making competence. In reality it’s a bit like Ed Wood trying to do Citizen Kane. The production values are poor, the dialogue is cringe-inducing, none of the disparate elements of the movie come together properly, it’s badly paced, the cinematography is stodgy and unimaginative and the acting is bad beyond belief. Johnny Cash is the worst offender. He should have stuck to singing. It’s a performance of uncontrolled hysteria that achieves a kind of awesome epic quality.

The combination of strangeness, interesting ideas and totally inept execution gives it all certain charm and an undeniable fascination. It’s a train wreck of a movie, but it’s an interesting train wreck. Definitely worth checking out if you have a taste for off-beat movies.


Nigel M said...

I like Johnny Cash music but that song he sang to terrorise the hostage where he sang "Five Minutes To Live". That was pretty lame.

That aside on the whole it wasn't a bad little B movie. There were definitely opportunities to crank up the tension that were wasted but on the positives this is the proto house invasion movie though probably has more in common with Cold Eyes Of Fear than the rougher edge of the genre.

dfordoom said...

It definitely marks a stage in the evolution of horror away from the supernatural towards an emphasis on psycho killers and serial killers. It would make an interesting double feature with The Sadist, a truly bizarre little 1963 film.

Nigel M said...

Yeah, you are right about The Sadist (that was on tv the other night too! and is one of my guilty pleasure favs). Another that springs to mind is Russ Meyers Motorpsycho.

dfordoom said...

Yes, Motorpsycho is another fun movie in the same kind of style. Meyer's early 60s black-and-white movies, like Lorna and Mudhoney as well, are underrated.

Nigel M said...

Again you mention two good films.

In a way I don't see how fans of "trash" can lump meyers Lorna or Mudhoney into that camp. They are pretty solid dramas. Meyer was capable of making trash but those two titles were probably more traditional and gritty.

I am not especially a fan of either though. I only say this on aesthetic grounds.

I love movies of a certain feel and they are not it. I acknowledge their strenghts in terms of storytelling, mood and ambience. But since both largely are hardly thrilling (unlike say motorpsycho for example) then I am left for with the aesthetic. I am not sure those particular films can resonate as well beyond america as some of meyers other titles.

Both have a nostalgia of their own that I cannot connect with- that's why I end up watching more european fare. I know that a lot of americans lump some of the european genre stuff with the word trash and I am sure that works both ways.

meyer did not make trash film when he made Mudhoney (though I guess he did when he made mondo topless or beneath the valley of the ultravixons). In both mudhoney and lorna I found something a little deeper- an attempt to scratch away at the veneer of smalltown faux respectability, seemingly a recurring theme of his).

But there is still something I cannot connect with. hard to put my finger on what it is.

You are right when you say these are underrated movies- but even though I own a few meyer titles myself (about 11 I think) the only ones I revisit is Faster Pussycat.

I may take time to take another look to blog about these though.

dfordoom said...

I'm a huge Meyer fan. Mudhoney is strange and unpleasant in a lot of ways, but I'm fond of it. It captures a certain atmosphere particularly well. But it's not exactly fun viewing. I do prefer his more overtly outrageous movies.