johnny cash, five minutes to live

Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained producer Harvey Weinstein made headlines Friday when he declared to CNN’s Piers Morgan that he planned to back away from future violent content in his films, unless it was “a tribute to the United States special forces.” The comment came in a discussion on Morgan’s CNN show prompted by the Florida shooting of a man by a retired policeman in a theater showing Lone Survivor

Weinstein also announced that he planned to make an anti-NRA movie with Meryl Streep. This came at exactly the same time he was moving into full campaign mode for his film Philomena, starring Judi Dench, which received multiple Academy Awards nominations. It is easily the least violent of this years Oscar hopefuls.

Johnny Cash knew all too well the attraction and repulsion of firearms. The musical protagonist in his 1955 song “Folsom Prison Blues,” who “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” set the template for the man who glorified gun violence for an audience, and later came to regret it (not lost on artists such as Jim Morrison, Nick Cave, and the Beastie Boys, who included a sample of that very line to end the “Hello Brooklyn” segment of their “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” tour-de-force that closed the 1989 Paul’s Boutique).

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In 1961’s Five Minutes To Live (available free on FilmOn’s on demand service), Cash plays ‘Johnny Cabot,’ a man caught in that very same tragic cycle, intelligent and creative enough to aspire to a ‘careful’ criminal career, stepping aside for moments of musical introspection (he performs the title track on his acoustic guitar at points in the film); but flip the same coin, and he’s a hostage to these same urges, and explosive when confronted with injustice, a hot housewife in a chiffon robe, or another gun. Cabot could not have sat quietly for long with the popcorn flying in that Halsey Chapel, Florida movie house.

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This was Cash’s first appearance on the silver screen (and he would only appear there as an actor once more, with Kirk Douglas in 1971’s A Gunfight – though he was all over television). His performance pays a debt to Robert Mitchum’s ‘Harry Powell’ in Night of the Hunter (1955), but there are a multitude of worse things he could imitate, and regardless, it is impossible for him to repress his own iconic persona much.

There are a number of quirky performances in his support. Urban hard-boiled to Cash’s country tough, Vic Tayback (Bullitt, Alice doesn’t Live Here Anymore) plays robbery ‘mastermind’ Fred, always one pin short of a strike; Cay Forester (married to the film’s executive producer Ludlow Flower, Jr.) wrote the screenplay as well as played the Camellia Gardens ‘Housewife of the Year;’ and Ron Howard, flush with his year-old Andy Griffith TV-child-stardom, predates his somewhat bigger filmic breakthrough as ‘Winthrop Paroo’ in The Music Man (1962).

Five Minutes to Live is available to watch free now via FilmOn:
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