Friday, July 21, 2017

Little-known Joseph H. Lewis diamond-in-the-rough, TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, gets the Blu-ray treatment via Arrow Academy

A director with some 54 credits on his resume, whose films, a few of which -- Gun Crazy, The Big Combo, The Undercover Man -- are oddball gems that are much better known than he is, Joseph H. Lewis (shown below) was one of those filmmakers whose served his material, rather than the other way around. TrustMovies grew up greatly enjoying some of this fellow's films without being aware of who he was or how he fit into the world of movie-making.

All that is beginning to change these days, as Lewis'
better films continue to be more fully recognized and appreciated. One of these is TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (from 1958) which has just arrived on Blu-ray in a smackingly good edition from Arrow Academy -- with some first-class Special Features in tow. Starring that always-capable actor Sterling Hayden (below), playing the son of a recently murdered father who arrives in the titular town to take over his dad's home, the movie proves an unusually low-key and philosophical western about the meanings of freedom and justice.

The movie's excellent screenplay was written, under a pseudonym, by Dalton Trumbo, and it bears a number of this blacklisted writer's hallmarks, starting with its low-key approach and interest in ideas, as much as in action -- all of which director Lewis serves up to a tee.

Once in town and having learned of his father's death, Hayden's character encounters the suave-if-tubby lead villain, essayed with classy smarm by Sebastian Cabot (above, right), along with his hired-gun henchman, played by a crackerjack performer new to me named Nedrick Young, a blacklisted actor/writer who would give us the following year (using yet another pseudonym) the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Defiant Ones.

Mr. Young (shown above and further above) makes a simply terrific villain: intelligent but frightening and as impressive in his own way as is Hayden in his. The pair makes a fine set of adversaries, and the change that occurs in Young's character (I hesitate to call it growth, but yet I think it is) once he encounters a man who is unafraid to die (the fine Victor Millan, below, right), provides a death scene of such simplicity, intelligence and strength that it instantly becomes one of the more memorable that movies have given us.

The women in the film are quite interesting, as well, particularly the our villain's "kept woman" who does not seem to quite have to strength to stand on her own. As played by an actress also new to me, Carol Kelly (below, left, and at bottom center), this character proves to be another of the movie's memorable people with some interesting things to tell us.

Terror in a Texas Town, while adhering to practically every last one of the cliches of the movie western, still manages to often be quiet, thoughtful, and sometimes surprising -- never more so than in the scene (below) in which three bad guys work over our hero, and instead of the expected all-out, razza-ma-tazz fight scene, we get something quite other.

Conversations between characters are equally low-key and telling; they make us listen and consider. And director Lewis serves the intelligent screenplay exceedingly well, drawing expert performances from all, and keeping the relatively taut story-line moving along at a decent pace.

At most, I suppose, this is simply a very good example of the B movie that used to show up on double bills and sometimes proved better than the main attraction. But it is yet another feather in the late-arriving cap of this unusual and far-too-unheralded film director.

From Arrow Academy (distributed here in the USA by MVD Visual and running a lean 80 minutes. Terror in a Texas Town arrived on Blu-ray disc on July 11 in a new 2K hi-def restoration from the original film elements, with an uncompressed mono soundtrack. Also worth watching and included on the Blu-ray is the excellent introduction to the film (and its director) by Peter Stanfield.

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