For his 41st and final feature film, Joseph H. Lewis was able to combine the two genres in which he had excelled. The man in the director's chair for My Name is Julia Ross, Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, Lewis was one of the all-time greats in film noir. But he was also a fine director of Westerns, having made A Lawless Street, 7th Cavalry and The Halliday Brand, all of which – especially the last – remain underrated. Terror in a Texas Town would bring his noir sensibilities to the American West, resulting in one of his finest works.
McNeil (Sebastian Cabot, The Time Machine) is a greedy hotel owner who wants to take control of Prairie City, the Texas town of the title. Keen to drive the local farmers of their land, McNeil hires a gunman, Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young, who would pen the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Defiant Ones the same year), resulting in the death of a former whaler. The dead man's son, George Hansen (Sterling Hayden, The Killing), arrives in town to inherit the farm and set the stage for revenge – armed with only his father's old harpoon…
Terror in a Texas Town was written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten blacklisted by the film industry and forced to write under pseudonyms or to use 'fronts'. Two years before he helped break the blacklist with on-screen credits for Otto Preminger's Exodus and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, his work was credited to Ben Perry, but it demonstrates a psychological depth and political dimension that is undoubtedly that of Trumbo.
Never bring a knife to a gunfight is probably good advice. In the case of Terror in a Texas Town, never bring a harpoon to a gunfight. You laugh at that, but that's literal in Joseph H. Lewis' western film from 1958. Lewis had mixed career where he started with noir films, mostly known for Gun Crazy, but then transferred to the horror genre and later into westerns. Terror in a Texas Town actually marked his final feature film, before he moved strictly to television westerns. One thing is for sure, though, the filmmaker had an original style and eye in telling his stories, but the substance was mostly lacking. Never-the-less, he had a great career and with, his final film, he had the blacklisted, yet legendary Dalton Trumbo write the screenplay.
Terror in a Texas Town plays out a lot like The Magnificent Seven, High Noon, and a bit of 3:10 To Yuma, but lacks any of the memorable characters or scenes. Still, using a harpoon as your main weapon in the usual western trope of a wooden town in the middle of nowhere in an old fashion face-off is quite funny and something you might not forget so easily. The film centers around an evil, greedy, man named McNeil who wants to control a town in Texas. In order to get his way, he burns down farms and houses to move the people out, as well as hiring an amazing gunfighter named Johnny Crale to kill anyone who stood in their way.
Sven Hansen, one of the townsfolk, stands up to McNeil and Crale, but is killed because of he brought a harpoon to a gunfight. Things are grim, but Sven's son arrives in town and sees things have gone south, and sets out to right the wrongs and stand up to Crale and McNeil with his father's harpoon. As the posters say, it's iron-hooked fury. Well, more like iron-hooked mild rascalism. Lewis tries to throw us off guard a few times by having some of the characters turn on each other or have a change of heart after a big action scene.
This has been done many times before in other films, but with Terror in a Texas Town, none of it seemed to have a motive or reasoning behind it. Instead, these twists and turns just happen for the sake of something to do. Performances are good with the material that is given, but it's the cinematography and style that really lead this western film to memorable status. Well, that and a harpoon.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Terror in a Texas Town comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Arrow Academy and is Region A Locked. There is a booklet that features cast and crew information, tech specs, and an essay on the film by Glenn Kenny. The disc is housed in a hard, clear plastic case with reversible artwork.
Terror in a Texas Town comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. According to the Arrow booklet, this film was exclusively restored in 2K resolution from an original 35mm fine-grain positive. This film is almost 60-years-old and looks surprisingly great with this new transfer and restoration. Detail is sharp and vivid in every lighting aspect where you can make out individual mustache hairs, wrinkles, and facial blemishes very easily.
Wider shots of the rustic western town never go soft either with every ding, scuff, and piece of dirt showing up on the wooden town. There is a great level of grain present that is stable, however, it crosses into heavy territory in certain shots of stock footage throughout the film. The black and white colors are well-balanced and deep without any major video issues to speak of. I was quite impressed with this one.
This release comes with an English LPCM 1.0 mono track, which, according to the booklet, sourced from a 35mm magnetic element created from the original sound negative reels. If you thought the above video presentation was great, this audio presentation is quite the opposite. What's good is that the dialogue is all clear and easy to follow, however, sound effects lack depth or any real bass.
Considering this has shootouts, you'd hope for a better sounding gunshot. That's not the case here. The score does add some suspense, however, the horns and other instruments are distorted and shrilly. With all of this, there is an added hiss through the entire movie. It's not the best audio track I've heard, but it won't completely destroy the viewing experience.
Terror in a Texas Town is not the best film in the western genre, however, it's quite memorable in its style, odd performances, and its choice of harpoon weaponry. It's definitely worth seeing and, if you're a fan of westerns, you'll likely want to have this peculiar gem in your collection. The video is outstanding, however, the audio doesn't stack up. A couple of good extras and a great booklet round this release out. For fans of the western genre.