Celebrating the birthday of The Man in Black.
Johnny Cash conveyed the same authority and authenticity on screen that characterized his concerts and recordings. As we approach the celebration of what would have been The Man in Black’s 91st birthday — February 26 — fans can appreciate the diversity of his performances in these five films and TV-movies. Just click on the titles, and see where to find them.
The Man in Black acquits himself as an effective character actor in this tawdry yet suspenseful B-movie, playing a deranged robber who terrorizes a bank vice-president’s captive wife in her own home while his partner forces the lady’s husband to raise a ransom. (Look for a pre-Andy Griffith Show Ronny Howard as the woman’s young son.) Originally known as Five Minutes to Live — the name of a song Cash sings while tormenting his prey — the film received a title change before its extremely limited mid-’60s theatrical re-release. (It’s been issued under both names by various DVD distributors.)
One of the better revisionist Westerns of the 1970s, director Lamont Johnson’s allegorical drama focuses on Will Tenneray (Kirk Douglas) and Abe Cross (Cash), two notorious gunfighters who develop a wary friendship when their paths cross in small town. Mindful of their advancing years and dwindling prowess, they collaborate on a retirement plan: They will sell tickets to their one-on-one shootout — in a bullring, no less — and the survivor will claim the box office take. Cash (pictured above with costar Karen Black) and Douglas give compelling performances as surprisingly complex characters during the countdown to their showdown.
Columbo: Swan Song
Like most murderers prone to underestimating the rumpled but wily Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk), gospel music star Tommy Brown (Cash) initially isn’t afraid of capture for his crime — in Brown’s case, the murder of his controlling wife (Ida Lupino) and former paramour (Bonnie Van Dyke), whom he drugs before donning a homemade parachute and leaping from a small plane he was piloting. But the homicide investigator’s suspicions are aroused almost immediately when he learns that Brown had sent his beloved guitar on ahead in a tour bus before boarding the plane. One thing leads to another, clues gradually accumulate, and Columbo ultimately get his man — even though he admits, while listening to one of Brown’s gospel tunes: “Any man who can sing like that can’t be all bad.” Cash and Falk are perfectly matched during this 1974 drama in the kind of cat-and-mouse game that was a Columbo series hallmark.
The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James
Cash plays an erudite and happily domesticated Frank to Kris Kristofferson’s rambunctiously womanizing Jesse in this underrated 1986 drama about the last years of the notorious Wild West outlaws. Despite the, ahem, maturity of the two leads, the movie earned points from critics for its historical accuracy — and delighted western fans with its relatively fresh take on a familiar tale. Longtime buddies Cash and Kristofferson must have enjoyed their on-screen collaboration because, just a few months later, they were back in the saddle again..
Directed by Ted Post (Hang ’Em High), this mildly entertaining 1986 made-for-TV remake of John Ford’s 1939 classic western bears only a passing resemblance to its illustrious predecessor. Even so, Cash effortlessly conveys sure-shot gravitas as the lawman bent on keeping a vengeful Ringo Kid (Kris Kristofferson filling in for John Wayne) from doin’ what a man’s got to do. Better still, he also develops an easy rapport with costars (and fellow Highwaymen) Willie Nelson — as Doc Holliday! — and Waylon Jennings.