I just spent one of the most enjoyable evenings out at the movies that I've had in a LONG time, watching a film made a year before I was even born. How this particular film has remained off my radar for my entire life is a complete mystery to me -- it is absolutely in the same noir/camp/exploitation genre and league of coolness as another one of my all-time faves, "Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill!" (starring my film hero Varla, as played by the iconic Tura Satana, who passed away last week). "Five Minutes To Live" doesn't have Tura, true, and 1961 pre-dates the groovy go-go liberation of '65's "FPKK." But instead we have a very snappy and cleverly-written satire on crime drama films, turning the idea of the bland perfection of the post-War suburbs utterly on its head. And most importantly, the film stars a young Johnny Cash in a brilliant, methed-out, and hilarious performance as a ruthless hired killer...who happens to carry a guitar around and sing at some very odd times. You cannot take your eyes off of him.

I suspect I would have remained clueless about this movie had it not been shown tonight in Seattle in a special one-time-only presentation at the Northwest Film Forum as the centerpiece for "You're Lookin' At Country," hosted by KEXP's "The Roadhouse" DJ and American Standard Time blogger Greg Vandy. The evening's theme was based around the idea of the time-honored "country death song," where murder, prison, revenge and retribution are at hand, sung in tremulous Southern twangs. The evening began with a couple of vintage clips of Porter Wagoner and Merle Haggard, and then the audience was treated to a smokin' live performance of "The Long Black Veil" and "Pretty Polly" from singer-guitarist Ian Moore, vocally assisted by Jet Sparks.

After a brief intermission, "Five Minutes To Live" began, and it absolutely rocked the house. It was so much fun to watch this with an audience that was hootin' and hollerin' and howlin' and gasping just like I was. The film was at one point re-released as "Door-To-Door Maniac," and Cash plays it just right, with soulless eyes, jittery snark, and, of course, his fabulous resonant voice. Vic Tayback (the veteran character actor who played Mel from "Mel's Diner" and much more) plays Cash's co-criminal with unshakable mobster cool, and Cay Forrester's portrayal of a suburban social climber who has a Very Bad Day, is straight-laced and high-camp, ice-cold and completely over-the-top. Country picker extrordinaire Merle Travis cameos as a slimy yes-man to Tayback's thug character, and the kid in this movie, who even steals the show from Cash multiple times...well, I am just not going to spoil the surprise for you if you haven't figured out who he is yet. The crowd laughed their asses off, I'll say, recognizing this very, very funny and talented lil' famous dude.

I cannot recommend this movie enough if you dig cult-y campy vintage classics in sweet black-and-white and The Man In Black, and if you don't dig those things, man, you're missing out! Try hard to see it in a theater (good luck with that) or find it on DVD, OR you can watch it RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW on your computer screen! Thanks to NWFF, Greg Vandy and American Standard Time, and Ian and Jet for a fantastic night.

"Five Minutes To Live" (full-length film, 1961)