• Terror In A Texas Town

    Released by: Arrow Academy
    Released on: July 11th, 2017.
    Director: Joseph H. Lewis
    Cast: Sterling Hayden, Sebastian Cabot, Carol Kelly, Eugene Mazzola, Nedrick Young
    Year: 1958
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Joseph H. Lewis and written by a then blacklisted Dalton Trumbo with Ben Perry acting as his front, 1958’s Terror In A Texas Town takes us back to a time “When The Texas Plains Ran With Blood And Black Gold!”

    When the film begins in Prairie City, Texas, we meet Sven Hanson (Ted Stanhope), a humble farmer that a well to do scoundrel named Ed McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) hopes to run off his land. Sven isn’t the only one in this predicament. Since McNeil learned that there was oil to be pumped out of the ground, he’s been doing his damnedest to drive a few of these farmers out of the area so he can swoop in and scoop it all up.

    Hanson isn’t cooperating. This upsets McNeil enough that he has his right hand man, Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young), shoot him dead. McNeil and Crale figure with Hanson out of the way, they’re good, but there is a witness in the form of Sven's friend Pepe Mirada (Eugene Mazzola). He knows who killed Sven but out of fear for his family’s life, he’s not talking. And then Sven’s son George (Sterling Hayden) shows up after a nineteen year stint away from home working as a whaler. He’s determined to find out who killed his father and why, and his unexpected arrival, with harpoon in hand, quickly proves a challenge to both McNeil and the local corrupt police responsible for keeping Prairie City safe.

    “Iron hooked fury!”

    There’s enough quirky elements worked into this one that allow the movie to rise above its fairly pedestrian plot where, once again, we see an underdog character taken down by a greedy landowner type. It’s the kind of things we’ve seen in countless American western films before – but this is probably the only one where the one to get revenge carries a harpoon! Little touches like this, coupled with some genuinely odd but visually interesting camerawork, keeps Terror In A Texas Town interesting to look at from start to finish. The high contrast black and white cinematography helps here too, giving the western setting a shadowy, noirish vibe (no surprise given that Lewis directed The Big Combo, Gun Crazy and a few others of their ilk). It works quite well, and the pacing is tight which means that the film never comes across as dull.

    The performances here are interesting. It what is basically a take of the wholesome everyman squaring off against corporate greed incarnate, Sterling Hayden makes for an interesting protagonist. His Swedish accent takes a little while to get used to and some of his wardrobe choices are a little strange (he’s a big man crammed into a small suit) but he looks great regardless and his performance is pretty solid. Nedrick Young as the hired gun responsible for the death of Sven Hanson plays the killing type with an appropriate amount of relish while Eugene Mazzola as the downtrodden Mexican farmer who would rather not get involved is sympathetic enough. Sebastian Cabot (the same actor who narrated The Many Adventure Of Winnie The Pooh for Disney!) makes for a surprisingly good villain. He’s well cast as the rich type who doesn’t mind trampling over anyone who gets between him and his next paycheck.

    Interestingly enough, this was Lewis’ final feature film. Once this was over, he’d work in television primarily on western shows and detective series before retiring in the mid-sixties and then passing away in 2000.


    Terror In A Texas Town arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc framed at 1.85.1, which appears to be the picture’s original aspect ratio, taken from a new 2k scan of a 35mm ‘fine grain positive.’ This is, generally speaking, a very impressive transfer. Black levels are solid while whites look nice and clean, leaving a richly detailed grey scale covering all points in between. The film’s grain structure remains intact, as it should, but the picture is never distracting in that regard. Some stock footage inserts and the bookending segments look a bit less pristine than the bulk of the film, but given their origins that’s understandable. There’s very little print damage here at all worth noting, just the occasional white speck that, if you’re not looking for it, you probably won’t notice. Detail and texture are generally very strong throughout – really, nothing to complain about here, this is a very strong image.

    The only audio option here is an English language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. The single channel okay but not completely free of issues as there is some audible hiss noticeable throughout. Otherwise, there are no problems with any distortion to note and the dialogue stays clean and well balanced throughout.

    Extras on this disc are a bit light but what’s here is good, starting with a thirteen minute introduction by Peter Stanfield, author of Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s: The Lost Trail and Horse Opera: The Strange History of the Singing Cowboy. He offers up his thoughts on Lewis’ directorial methods and discusses some of the themes that the film explores.

    The author pops up again in Terror in a Texas Town: A Visual Analysis by Peter Stanfield, a fourteen minute where he delves a bit deeper into the themes that the movie deals with while offering up some critical analysis of the story, direction and performances.

    Outside of that we get the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Arrow’s packaging is quite nice, as they’ve included a reversible cover sleeve featuring original poster art on one side and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov on the other. Also included with the first pressing of this release is an illustrated insert booklet featuring new writing by Glenn Kenny as well as credits for the feature, credits for the Blu-ray and some technical notes on the presentation.

    The Final Word:

    Terror In A Texas Town is an atypical western made with some interesting noir elements. It’s not a perfect film, but it is well made and quite interesting. Add to that some interesting visual touches and few fine performances and it’s definitely worth seeing. Arrow’s Blu-ray release offers up a nice high definition presentation for fans with a few decent extras that explore the film’s history and significance. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Nice review, Ian. I really like this film, almost as much as de Toth's DAY OF THE OUTLAW.