5 Minutes to Live (AKA Door-to-Door Maniac) 1961

“I like a messy bed….”

A few minutes into Five Minutes to Live (AKA Door-to-Door Maniac), I thought I’d made a mistake and wasted money buying this film. But once the film’s rough beginning moved into the main drama, and I became used to the film’s cheap production values, I realized this film possessed some fascinating qualities.

Murderer Johnny Cabot (Johnny Cash in his first film role) is on the run with girlfriend Doris (Midge Ware) when he’s approached by crook Fred Dorella (Vic Tayback) to do a big job. Dorella’s plan is for Johnny to invade the home of bank employee Ken Wilson (Donald Woods) while his wife Nancy (Cay Forrester) is home alone. With Johnny holding Nancy hostage, Dorella will then approach Wilson at the bank demanding money for Nancy’s safe release. Dorella is sure that with Nancy hostage and Johnny ready to kill her at a moment’s notice, Wilson is certain to hand over the money with no fuss.

Dorella has spent weeks keeping Wilson and his home under surveillance, and as a consequence, he knows Wilson’s schedule down to the last second. Dorella’s surveillance leads him to believe that the Wilsons have a happy home life, but that conclusion is false. Mr. Wilson is very unhappily married and his demanding mistress has just talked him into dumping his wife and skipping town.

One of the reasons this film works so well is the universal truths it contains. Dorella, for example, watches the Wilsons from a distance and jumps to all the wrong conclusions. Dorella confuses routine and respectability with love and happiness, but the Wilsons’ happy home is a facade covering adultery, boozing and bourgeois pretensions. There’s one great scene near the beginning of the film when Cabot and Dorella are waiting for Wilson to go to work. Cabot expresses disdain and disbelief that anyone in their right minds would keep to Wilson’s rigid, predictable schedule, and Dorella explains that Wilson loves his routine, and that some people are just like that. To the Dorellas and the Cabots of this world, people like the Wilsons are enigmas, but the reverse is also true–as Nancy Wilson finds out when Cabot enters her home….

Johnny Cash seems to warm up to his role as the deranged and very strange killer, and he’s certainly unleashed when he has Nancy at home alone. A tangled, psychotic mess, when Cabot isn’t waving his gun around, he’s spouting his theories about women, or strumming his guitar and singing death threats. Clearly he hates people like the Wilsons, and he delights far too much in smashing up Nancy’s precious little objects. When boredom sets in, he begins playing with his victim, and his games have a decidedly sick, sadistic and sexual edge. Let’s put it like this…I’ve never seen a film in which a negligee appeared as part of the opening credits.

But apart from Cash, there are some other great little moments here–the pushy, chocolate-munching Priscilla (Norma Vardem) a local matron who enjoys ordering everyone around, and little Ron Howard as the precocious, neglected son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. All in all, not a bad little crime thriller directed by Bill Karn (Ma Barker’s Killer Brood). The film is about 80 minutes long, and there’s a DVD extra–a pilot episode of a television western The Night Rider. I bought the cheapo version from Critic’s Choice Video, and the quality was perfectly acceptable.

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