In most Westerns, the protagonist is mentally healthy. He may have a single-minded obsession about something, like John Wayne’s character in Red River or in The Searchers, but that is just part of his manliness. There are a few Westerns, however, in which the protagonist is mentally ill. There is Sterling Hayden’s character in Johnny Guitar, who is gun crazy, and there is Charles Bronson’s character in Once Upon a Time in the West, who does not simply want revenge against the man who killed his brother, but is an obsessive-compulsive, who keeps playing the harmonica that was in his mouth when his brother died, and he even wears clothing similar to what he wore on that day. In such movies, the music is usually in a minor key.
A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die is in that subgenre. The protagonist, Clay McCord (Alex Cord) has, or at least thinks he has, epilepsy, and is haunted by memories of his father having fits. When his gun hand starts acting up in moments of temporary spasms and paralysis, he thinks it is just a matter of time before he will meet with the same fate. Even though he needs his partner to help him out when his hand freezes up, he parts with him because he cannot stand the idea of someone else seeing him in that way.
He realizes that his days as a gunslinger and bandit are coming to an end, and so he decides to apply for amnesty, which is being offered in the territory of New Mexico. However, it turns out that he does not have epilepsy, but rather has been bothered by a bullet lodged near his spine, which is removed. Nevertheless, he applies for the amnesty anyway and gets it. But it is hardly a happy ending, because he still seems to be troubled by his past.
The movie is marred by a couple of absurdities. After being rescued from Escondido by a government agent, he rides with him in his wagon until a couple of riders approach. McCord kills both of them, and then tells the agent to unhitch one of his horses, because he needs a horse to go his own way. But the two men he just killed were riding horses, which are now saddled and ready for use, and all McCord has to do is get on one of them. As one of the agent’s horses is unhitched, however, we see the two dead men in the background, but not their horses, for some strange reason.
Second, McCord decides to hide out in a place called Beaver Head, which is a nice cabin, completely unoccupied and stocked with rifles and dynamite just sitting there for the taking. No explanation is given for the existence of this place, or why, with all the bandits around, it remains unmolested.
Those two absurdities notwithstanding, however, this is the best Spaghetti Western not directed by Sergio Leone.
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