DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
FIVE MINUTES TO LIVE (aka: DOOR TO DOOR MANIAC) (director: Bill Karn; screenwriters: Cay Forrester/Robert L. Joseph/based on a story by Palmer Thompson; cinematographer: Carl Guthrie; editor: Donald Nosseck; music: Gene Kauer; cast: Johnny Cash (Johnny Cabot), Donald Woods (Ken Wilson), Pamela Mason (Ellen Harcourt), Cay Forester (Nancy Wilson), Vic Tayback (Fred Dorella/narrator), Ron Howard (Bobby Wilson), Merle Travis (Max), Midge Ware (Doris), Norma Varden (Priscilla Auerbach), Leslie Kimmel (Mr. Johnson, bank president); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: James Ellsworth; TCM; 1961)

 
"It was incredible fun seeing a crazed Cash threatening to kill his hostage suburban housewife, who is in curlers, while holding both a silencer and a guitar and singing to her the theme song."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

This exploitation drive-in thriller has singer Johnny Cash, believe it or not, playing a psychopath killer in his movie acting debut, while the seven-year-old Ron Howard takes a break from starring on the Andy Griffith Show to take a fling at the movies and does a great job as a perky six-year-old. "Five Minutes" might be trash (OK, let's cross-out the might, it is trash), but it delivers its garbage with B-film panache. It was incredible fun seeing a crazed Cash threatening to kill his hostage suburban housewife, who is in curlers, while holding both a silencer and a guitar and singing to her the theme song "Five Minutes to Live." Second-rate director Bill Karn ("Ma Barker's Killer Brood"/"Gang Busters"/"Guns Don't Argue"), never better, is still too inept to do much with such a punchy fresh concept. But the film nevertheless deserves cult recognition for being so deranged and entertaining despite such trite dialogue, poor production values and not a clue at how close this bizarre pic came from being a gem if it could only have stayed focused on being psycho and not conclude with an unmerited but requisite Hollywood happy ending.

The crime drama is based on a story by Palmer Thompson and is written by Cay Forrester (she also stars in it) and Robert L. Joseph. It was re-released in 1966 under the title Door to Door Maniac.

Trigger-happy career criminal Johnny Cabot (Johnny Cash) flees his beloved New Jersey with his good-time cocktail waitress girlfriend Doris (Midge Ware), after gunning down a cop and escaping from being fingered in a setup warehouse robbery. The on-the-run couple hole-up in a motel in a small suburban town in California called Camellia Gardens. Bored out of his skull and hating everything about suburbia (from its perceived dull routine life to the wholesome family scene), Johnny sees his chance to get back in action when the cowardly bowling alley manager Max (Merle Travis, the guitarist) calls to set up a meeting at the bowling alley with tough-guy thug Fred Dorella (Vic Tayback). To please Fred, who wants his new partner to get rid of Doris because he swears he knows her by another name and with another man, Johnny kills his moll when back in the motel without breaking a sweat. The nutty plan by Fred has Johnny posing as a door-to-door salesman to get into the house of the bank vice president, Ken Wilson's (Donald Woods), and to hold his wife Nancy (Cay Forester) hostage while Fred is in the bank forcing Ken to turn over $70,000 or in five minutes, if there's no call, the psycho will kill his wife. What Fred didn't plan on, is that Ken has a mistress, Ellen Harcourt (Pamela Mason), and is planning to run away with her after work (so much for utopia in the 'burbs and the sacredness of the nuclear family), and secondly that the Wilson's precocious son Bobby (Ron Howard) would return home from school for lunch and almost by himself wreck Fred's perfect plan.

Fred narrates the film from behind bars.

Though it unfortunately plays out in the same way these thrillers usually do, you can't beat watching the singing icon slap around the housewife, marvel at the off-beat characters doing their sleazy thing and Cash telling his vic who is now in a sexy negligee "Guess you gals are all alike when Johnny steps on yer starter!"

REVIEWED ON 9/12/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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