Johnny Cash Stars as a Menacing, Musical Gangster in 1961 Film Five Minutes to Live

As every­one sure­ly knows by now, today would have been John­ny Cash’s 81st birth­day, and he’s been right­ly cel­e­brat­ed all around the inter­net for his one-of-a-kind coun­try per­sona as “The Man in Black.” Cash was so well-loved in part because, like only a hand­ful of oth­er coun­try stars (Hank Williams, Pat­sy Cline, Dol­ly Par­ton, Emmy­lou Har­ris), he tran­scend­ed the genre, win­ning fans from every con­ceiv­able cor­ner. The out­law singer was also no stranger to TV and film cam­eras, once host­ing his own talk show and appear­ing in sev­er­al dozen films and TV shows as him­self.

But did you know that Cash once had a star­ring fea­ture film role along­side Vic Tay­back and Ron Howard? That’s right, in the 1961 crime dra­ma above, Five Min­utes to Live, Cash plays John­ny Cabot, described by Rot­ten Toma­toes as “a blood­thirsty New Jer­sey gang­ster who is forced to hide out in a small Cal­i­for­nia sub­urb after killing a cop dur­ing a job gone wrong.”

Cabot is a musi­cal crook, who tricks his way into a bank pres­i­den­t’s home by con­vinc­ing the pres­i­den­t’s wife he’s a gui­tar sales­man. Once inside, he ter­ror­izes her and sings men­ac­ing songs in her direc­tion. Ron Howard plays the vic­tim­ized wom­an’s son Bob­by, and anoth­er coun­try great, gui­tarist Mer­le Travis, has a small role as a bowl­ing alley own­er. It’s all in keep­ing, I guess, with the John­ny Cash out­law leg­end (though he may have regret­ted the lurid, grind­house movie poster below).

Five Min­utes to Live was re-released in 1966 as Door-to-Door Mani­ac. What­ev­er you call it, you may hear more about this movie soon: Speed direc­tor Jan de Bont has been brought on to direct a remake in the near future. And yes, there’s been talk (if only tongue-in-cheek) of cast­ing Joaquin Phoenix in the Cash role.

Five Min­utes to Live is in the pub­lic domain, and we’ve added it to our col­lec­tion of 500 Free Movies Online.


Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The 1969 Bob Dylan-John­ny Cash Ses­sions: Twelve Rare Record­ings

Two Prison Con­certs That Defined an Out­law Singer: John­ny Cash at San Quentin and Fol­som (1968–69)

John­ny Cash Sings “Man in Black” for the First Time, 1971

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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