The Movie Waffler DVD Review - A TIME FOR DYING (1969) | The Movie Waffler

DVD Review - A TIME FOR DYING (1969)

a time for dying review
A wannabe bounty hunter is forced to marry a young woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Budd Boetticher

Starring: Richard Lapp, Anne Randall, Robert Random, Audie Murphy, Victor Jory

a time for dying poster

I've always had a curious fascination with the final movies on the CVs of great filmmakers. Unless they're cut down in their prime, filmmakers tend to go out with a whimper more often than a bang, struggling to adapt to a changing filmic landscape and unable to capture the attention of a new generation. With the dawn of 'New American Cinema' and the collapse of the Hollywood studio system in the late 1960s, many iconic filmmakers suddenly found themselves in danger of being replaced by young bearded upstarts. A few managed to adapt to the new landscape of cynicism, sex and violence, and the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah fully embraced this new post-censorship era with confrontational movies like Frenzy, Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange. But many directors simply couldn't adapt to this new era, with legends like Howard Hawks, Vincente Minnelli and John Ford refusing to change their ways and ending their careers with arguably their least interesting films.

Budd Boetticher fell between both stools. Best known as the director of a series of cult b-westerns starring Randolph Scott ('The Ranown Cycle'), Boetticher was considered a journeyman in his own country while embraced by European critics as a western auteur whose work was every bit as valuable as that of Hawks and Ford. Boetticher was one of those filmmakers who made the best of the studio system, which allowed him to deliver movies at a prolific rate of two or three a year from the early '40s to the early '60s. It was in the '60s however that Boetticher's career stalled, his lyrical style of western considered old hat next to the stylish new Italian imports, and the man whose films inspired numerous column inches in European film journals found himself taking gigs on TV westerns to pay the bills.

a time for dying review

Another former western icon now tossed aside was Audie Murphy, the war hero turned Hollywood star who symbolised the values of the greatest generation. In the late '60s, Boetticher and Murphy got together in an attempt to reinvent their stagnant careers. The plan was to make a film that would bridge the divide between the classic Hollywood western and the new spaghetti and psychedelic westerns that were pulling in a young audience in the age of Aquarius.

The result was 1969's A Time for Dying, which in many ways is the western genre's equivalent of Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind. Like Welles' film, Boetticher's received a belated release, tied up in litigation for 13 years before receiving a cinema release in 1982, when ironically Hollywood was rejecting the pessimism of '70s cinema in favour of something closer to the optimistic outlook of the '50s.

a time for dying review

The first of the film's problems arrives in the opening scene with the arrival of Cass Bunning, a wet behind the ears, golly gee teenage hero whose aww shucks attitude would have no doubt provoked much mocking laughter from an audience weaned on Bonnie & Clyde and Easy Rider. Boetticher had tried to sign up Peter Fonda for the role but ended up casting the unknown Richard Lapp. As out of his depth in front of a camera as his character is in the unforgiving Old West, Lapp is simply awful, though he does possess a likeable charm.

When Cass runs into a gang of stubbly outlaws led by gunfighter Billy Pimple (played by Bob Random, who incidentally also appeared in The Other Side of the Wind - perhaps he was cursed?), the effect is like Roy Rogers riding into Once Upon a Time in the West, and I can't help but wonder if Boetticher's film was the inspiration for the opening segment of the Coen brothers' recent western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The score by Harry Betts, which might be more at home in a Jerry Lewis comedy, adds to the schizophrenic tone.

Cass wants to be a bounty hunter, and when he reaches the next town and learns of the reward for Pimple's head, he decides to make Pimple his first target. Along the way he finds himself forced to marry Nellie (Anne Randall, a Playboy centrefold best known for her role as a robot hooker in Westworld) by the notorious Judge Roy Bean. Played by veteran actor Victor Jory, the infamous hanging judge is a confusingly written figure here, part sinister scumbag who takes glee in hanging a teenage thief, part drunken comic relief who leaves his false teeth in a jar of whisky overnight. I can't figure out how Boetticher wants us to view Bean, but given his actions, he's impossible to empathise with and never gets the comeuppance we'd like to see him get.

a time for dying review

Murphy relegates himself to a late cameo as legendary outlaw Jesse James, a character he previously essayed in 1950's Kansas Raiders, at which point the plot the movie has been scrambling around in the dust in search of finally begins to take shape, leading to arguably the most downbeat ending to a western since 1943's The Ox-Bow Incident. If Boetticher's aim was to prove he could be as misanthropic as the young filmmakers emerging in the turbulent Vietnam era, he achieved his goal. Yet given the largely good-natured film such an ending is tacked onto, it simply comes off as unnecessarily cruel and mean-spirited, an act of desperation on the part of a filmmaker battling irrelevance.

50 years after its production, and 37 years after its delayed cinema release, A Time for Dying finally receives a legit DVD release courtesy of Corinth Films, whose HD remastering provides a fitting showcase for Lucien Ballard's elegant cinematography. In the wake of the belated release of The Other Side of the Wind and with Buster Scruggs arousing curiosity in a new generation for offbeat westerns, it's a timely release for one of the genuine oddities of the genre.

A Time for Dying is released on DVD February 5th by Corinth Films. It will also be available on Amazon Prime, IndieFlix & Vimeo On Demand.