Terror in a Texas Town (1958)

Terror in a Texas Town (1958)

“Time presses — and I’ve run out of means of persuasion.”

A corrupt businessman (Sebastian Cabot) with a beautiful “secretary” (Marilee Earle) hires a ruthless gunslinger (Nedrick Young) with a self-loathing girlfriend (Carol Kelly) to kill any farmers who refuse to sell their oil-rich land to him — starting with the father (Ted Stanhope) of a Swedish-American whaler (Sterling Hayden) who arrives in town and refuses to accept Cabot’s claim that the land isn’t legally Hayden’s.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Corruption
  • Joseph H. Lewis Films
  • Sterling Hayden Films
  • Westerns

Ghost-written by Dalton Trumbo, this western tells a fairly straight-forward tale of good-versus-evil in a lawless town, with the “fat cat” businessman literally a rotund guy, and a sociopathic hitman perennially clad in black. Shades of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954) are immediately evoked as Hayden emerges in the opening scene, wielding a whale harpoon against an unseen foe:

… and we also see Frank Ferguson — who played Marshal Williams in …Guitar — in a key supporting role.

Unfortunately, once Hayden opens his mouth, disbelief must be suspended: his Swedish accent is highly dubitable, and comes and goes randomly. Young is menacing but not especially memorable as the key baddie (where are Lee Van Cleef or Lee Marvin when you need them?). However, Joseph H. Lewis’s unique directorial stamp makes this film worth a look; see stills below.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joseph Lewis’s top-notch direction

  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.


One thought on “Terror in a Texas Town (1958)

  1. A once-must, as a solid, satisfying western. I’d seen this once before – many years ago – and liked it then. I like it still. I like the fact that, at 80 minutes, its aim is modest and the story is compact – the film feels full and an appropriate length.

    I admire Lewis as a director – he should be better known among film fanatics…which is another reason I’ll go to bat (or even harpoon) for this one. In lesser hands, the film would have been more mundane.

    I don’t find Hayden’s Swedish accent to be a problem. While obviously not authentic – it’s more of a suggestion, with some of the characteristics typical of Swedish natives – I think it’s consistent-enough to be serviceable, which is all it has to be.

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