TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is an odd little western. Filmed in black and white and released in 1958, many of the participants were involved in the Hollywood blacklistings of the mid-fifties. Sterling Hayden briefly co-operated with the House UnAmerican activities before repudiating his testimony. Two of the screenwriters were among blacklisted writers, then the script was rewritten by a third, attributed to Ben Perry.
Knowing this history and watching the movie, one gets the felling it was a subtle dig at what was going on in this country at the time. We see townspeople, brave at first, start to back off one by one as they are pressed by the opposition.
It has all the requisite tropes of your conventional western. The greedy land baron trying to drive out the small ranchers, a corrupt Sheriff, the aging gunman dressed in black with a tricked-out two gun rig, and the stalwart hero. That last is where this movie begins to move away from convention.
As the movie begins, we see a man striding down the street with a large whaling harpoon resting on one shoulder being followed by a large group of people. A gunman steps out of the hotel, we never see his face, and begins to taunt the man. hands poised over his guns.
The movie suddenly backtracks to show how we get to this point.
We learn early that the land baron(Sebastion Cabot) claims to have land grants for the entire valley, superseding deeds for folks that have lived on their farms for ten, fifteen, twenty years. He either pays them to leave or, failing that, burns them out. That still doesn’t work for everyone, not at first, so he sends for an old comrade of earlier times.
That would be the gunman, Johnny Crale(Ned Young). They comment on the passing years: seventy-five pounds and high living for Cabot, the fancy two-gun rig for Young and black gloves. He’s now shooting left-handed, disguising a ruined right hand with gloves and dual weapons.
Cabot wants an example made, the death of one of the ranchers, then Young to leave town. Young has other ideas though. He’s getting old and senses a lot of money in this deal.
The example picked is a farmer named Swen Hansen, a former whaler, who’s just learned the real reason for everything. His Mexican neighbor started getting oil coming from his well. When the gunman comes, Hansen makes the Mexican and his young son hide in the barn and they witness him shot down.
Enter George Hansen(Sterling Hayden), the son come to see his father after nineteen years aboard a whaling ship, only to find he’d been murdered, and bared from his own land. He’d been sending money all those years to help pay for the farm and his father had told him in a letter that he’d filed a will naming him heir.
Cabot’s character first tries to buy him off, them has him beaten and thrown on a train leaving town(he doesn’t want another murder so soon). It doesn’t stop Hansen, who simply jumps off the train and walks back to town.
Good little movie and the final showdown is different from your usual. More psychological suspense than all-out action with a neat little brass sound track that helps build to the end. The trumpet action is especially good.