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Joseph H. Lewis
Sterling Hayden, Sebastian Cabot, Carol Kelly
Writing Credits:
Ben L. Perry

A Swedish whaler is out for revenge when he finds out that a greedy oil man murdered his father for their land.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 7/11/2017

• Introduction by Film Historian Peter Stanfield
• “A Visual Analysis” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Terror in a Texas Town [Blu-Ray] (1958)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 19, 2017)

Director Joseph H. Lewis’s final theatrical film before he entered a career in TV, 1958’s Terror in a Texas Town introduces us to the inhabitants of Prairie City. In this location, hotel owner Ed McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) tries to take control of as much local land as possible.

In service to this effort, McNeil brings in Johnny Crale (Ned Young), a gun for hire. This results in the shooting death of Sven Hansen (Ted Standhope), a man who used to work as a whaler and who McNeil targets as an “example” to other holdouts.

After Hansen’s killing, his son George (Sterling Hayden) comes to Prairie City to take over his dad’s land. He also seeks revenge, a task he pursues armed with his father’s old whaling harpoon.

I’ll admit it: that sounds like a silly set-up for a movie, mainly due to the weapon of choice. How can it not seem cheesy that a western vigilante roams the town equipped with a harpoon?

Happily, Terror manages to pull off this choice in a successful manner, mainly because so little of the film’s running time involves George’s vengeful ways. Although the movie starts with a glimpse of the climatic confrontation between George and Crale, we don’t see George with weapon in hand again until the flick catches up with that teaser, and that doesn’t occur until the last few minutes.

Normally I’d frown on a story that shows us so much of the finale at its beginning, but here it makes some sense, mainly due to the brevity of the actual conflict. When we get to the George/Crale fight, it doesn’t last very long, and our foreknowledge adds to the tension. We know they’ll butt heads eventually, and that makes the scenes that lead to this more fraught.

Much of Terror follows a tense path, as it tends toward something of a cat and mouse construct. The scene in which George learns of his father’s death becomes all the more dramatic because Crale tells him.

Of course, the assassin doesn’t reveal his role in the murder, but the audience knows, and that adds to the sequence. Other scenes follow suit, and the whole package delivers a pretty edgy experience in that regard.

Terror also manages to elevate its characters above the basic archetypes they seem to be, and this feels most true in regard to Crale. He could come across as nothing more than the cold-blooded gun for hire, but he appears more three-dimensional than that – heck, Crale almost feels sympathetic at times.

The film loses a few points due to the decision to make George Swedish – at least in terms of Hayden’s performance, that is. I don’t mind George’s Scandinavian heritage as much as I dislike Hayden’s inability to render a believable accent.

Still, Hayden adds some force to the rest of his performance, especially when George becomes more agitated. Hayden brings a good “slow burn” quality to George and manages to make him a convincing character despite the bad accent.

For those who want subtext, Terror offers a clear reflection of the era’s anti-Communist fervor – not a surprise give that screenwriter “Ben L. Perry” was actually a pseudonym for the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. I like the added layer of meaning, especially because the film doesn’t beat us over the head with it.

At times I think Terror feels a little too much like a remake of High Noon, and it can show other influences too strongly. Nonetheless, it usually brings us a tight little Western.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C-/ Bonus C

Terror in a Texas Town appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a usually good but erratic transfer.

Sharpness seemed up and down. Much of the film offered reasonable clarity, but some wider shots tended toward too much softness. To be fair, though, these tended to reflect what seemed to be stock footage much of the time.

Some non-stock shots appeared less than precise as well on occasion, but most of these showed nice clarity. I noticed no issues with shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes remained absent.

With a fair amount of grain – especially during interiors - I didn’t suspect digital noise reduction here, and print flaws were minimal. Blacks seemed dark and deep, but contrast was less impressive, as whites appeared a bit too bright on a few occasions.

Still, shadows showed fairly good delineation, and the black and white elements usually satisfied. All of this ended up as a mostly positive presentation.

I felt less pleased with the film’s problematic LPCM monaural soundtrack. Speech tended to be somewhat brittle and sibilant, and they also showed less than impressive looping. The lines remained intelligible but they weren’t natural.

Music displayed some dull qualities, and effects seemed rough. Neither of those elements seemed terrible, but both remained below average. Even when I considered the constraints of the film’s era, this was a weak soundtrack that barely worked well enough for a “C-“.

Two featurettes appear here, and we open with an Introduction from Peter Stanfield. In this 13-minute, 10-second piece, the author of Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s discusses director Joseph H. Lewis as well as the film’s narrative/themes and how it connects to its era and genre. Stanfield covers a good array of topics in this short but informative reel.

We hear more from Stanfield during a 14-minute, 14-second Visual Analysis. We see shots from the film as Stanfield relates a mix of elements, usually focused on visual choices. “Analysis” acts as a good complement to “Introduction”.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the set ends with a booklet. It features photos, credits and an essay from critic Glenn Kenny. The booklet concludes matters on a positive note.

Given its clear debt to High Noon and other films, I can’t call Terror in a Texas Town a great Western, but it usually satisfies. The movie offers a brisk, tight narrative that gives us enough drama to keep us with it. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture along with subpar audio and a couple of decent bonus features. Terror becomes a mostly enjoyable effort.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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