Heroes, Horses & Harpoons – Rediscovering ‘Terror in a Texas Town’ (US 1958 – 80 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - July 23, 2017
Heroes, Horses & Harpoons – Rediscovering ‘Terror in a Texas Town’ (US 1958 – 80 mins)

An uneven movie that’s become something of a cult oddity, the low-budget western ‘Terror in a Texas Town’ is an interesting revenge piece which is noted mainly for its unique (if over-too-soon) showdown.

Returning from years of being at sea, Swedish whaler George Hanson (Sterling Hayden) finds that his father, a local
farmer, has been killed by hired gunman Johnny Crale (Ned Young), and that the corrupt sheriff has done nothing about it. It transpires that a no-good land baron (Sebastian Cabot) is forcing the locals to sell him their land at a low price, and when Hanson learns that there’s oil on his property, he convinces the bullied farmers to band together to put an end to the sleazy baron’s crooked plan.

While I don’t think it’s as good as its reputation, I certainly found the finale breathtaking, though a little far-fetched. An unsmiling Sterling Hayden was ideal as the avenging whaler, and while some found his attempt at a Scandinavian accent distracting, I wasn’t put off at all. British born Sebastian Cabot was ideal as the villainous and flamboyant land baron, while Ned Young (who wrote much of the script) takes his hired gunslinger role very seriously, complete with a steel fist for his shooting hand! The female supporting cast is good here, with Carol Kelly as the gunman’s self-pitying girlfriend, and Marilee Earle as Cabot’s ‘questionable’ secretary, both memorable.

This was the under-rated director Joseph H. Lewis’s final feature film, and he does his usual masterful job, adding much style to the proceedings. The excellent black & white cinematography was by the Oscar-winning Ray Rennahan, whose credits include ‘Gone with the Wind’ (’39) and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (’43).

Remembered mostly for its finale, where Hanson uses his whaling harpoon to avenge the villain, ‘Terror in a Texas Town’ has a lot going for it. With fleshed-out characters, a story that sucks you in, and an air of coiled tension, it’s an old fashioned ‘good-versus-evil’ tale that’s well told and crams much into its 80 minute running time.

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