Tag Archives: 1958

KARLOFF 1958: THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, AND FRANKENSTEIN 1970

In 1958, producer Richard Gordon offered a two-picture deal with director Robert Day. The dual productions, The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood, would be A (or A-) budget productions, providing the actor a starring role and a salary to match. Karloff jumped at the offer. It had been twelve years since his last star-quality vehicle, the -produced Bedlam (directed by ). Since then, Karloff had been stuck in character parts (1951’s The Strange Door, 1952’s The Black Castle), playing opposite Abbott and Costello (1949’s Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer), or crap (1954’s The Island Monster and 1957’s Voodoo Island). He had fared better in television (as one of the few big screen stars of the time who had no qualms jumping to the small screen).

The Haunted Strangler is often assessed as the lesser of the two Day/Karloff films, with the actor at his hammiest since 1934’s The Lost Patrol (directed by John Ford and featuring Karloff’s worst performance). Much of the film’s considerable budget went into expensive sets and into securing its lead actor, which unfortunately short-shifted the makeup department: Karloff’s Hyde-like transformation is reduced to the actor tilting his head, mussing up hair, twisting his hand into a claw, and biting lower lip. It is distracting as hell, and critics have been divided on assessing his performance as a whole. Another oft-cited critique is the predictable storyline. In its defense, classic horror fans usually rely on the overused virtues of atmosphere. There are also lurid elements of exploitation (champagne-soaked cleavage, -inspired can-can crotch shots, gruesome murders of women, floggings, bedlam abuses, broken glass to the face, etc) to keep up the interest.

Still from The Haunted Strangler (1958)A film is more than a plot or good makeup effects, however, and Day counts on the actor to carry this character-driven opus. Karloff plays a writer named Rankin, seeking justice for a man whom he believes was wrongly executed as the Haymarket Strangler. Rankin believes the true serial killer is still at large, and through his investigation we are transported through a series of impressive set pieces, from a dilapidated asylum to a gravesite ripe for defiling, a prison, and a sleazy cabaret. The narrative “twist” is transparent almost from the opening, and witnessing Karloff’s B-film descent into hysterical lunacy makes for a beguiling contrast with the A-quality art production. Given the flimsy plotting, a more subdued performance would have rendered the enterprise vapid. Despite the film’s obvious flaws, blatant titillation, and dated makeup, Karloff bounces through a project that is tailor-made for him.

Corridors of Blood is a different animal, with nary a monster in sight—at least not the genre expectations of a supernatural ogre. Rather, it is the monster of ignorance that rears its head here, and despite the Continue reading KARLOFF 1958: THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, AND FRANKENSTEIN 1970

CAPSULE: MON ONCLE (1958)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jacques Tati, Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Alain Becourt

PLOT: A young boy being raised in a sterile modernist home prefers the company of his childlike uncle, one M. Hulot.

Still from Mon Oncle (1958)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I’m far from set on including a Jacques Tati film on the List, but if he were to show up, Playtime would make a better choice.

COMMENTS: Mon Oncle could almost be described as a tale of two houses. There’s not a lot of plot; the movie hinges on set design more than anything. The movie’s satirical targets, the Arpels, live in a white, clean-looking modernist geometric home fitted out with all the latest 1958 gadgets, like automatic garage door openers (incroyable!), air-conditioning, and an automatic steak-flipper. The most significant of all the doo-dads is the dolphin fountain in the garden, which a vigilant Mme. Arpel turns on and off (to save on water bills) depending on the social status of the villa’s latest visitor. The Arpels are thoroughly bourgeois consumers; M. Arpel owns a hose factory (the source of a gag later in the film when he hires  hapless frere-in-law Hulot). Oncle Hulot’s apartment is more magical. Like it’s most famous tenant, it’s a ramshackle, organic, and impractical domicile. We view Hulot enter from across the street and see as he passes through half a dozen windows and balconies, not always emerging exactly where we expect.

Easygoing, unambitious Hulot, with his rumpled overcoat and the ever-present pipe clutched between his teeth, represents an almost bohemian view of life as something to be enjoyed at leisure. The Arpels, obsessed with acquiring status symbols, find him to be a shamefully out-of-touch embarrassment, and seek to make him into a respectable member of modern society. They try to find him a job and a spinster to wed. Of course, his nephew finds his nonchalant oncle to be a lot more fun than his nagging parents. I’d certainly side with Hulot over the Arpels, but it’s not much of a choice; they take all the fun out of being rich. As satire, however, Mon Oncle is far too forgiving, almost affectionate to its targets. The critique never stings—which is not the way Voltaire or Molière would have done it. The Arpels seem merely foolish rather than venal. And parts of Tati’s attack are now dated. The Arpel’s decor, then chosen to represent the ugliness of modernism, now looks quaint and almost classical. I wouldn’t mind living in their house at all.

As comedy, Mon Oncle is dry stuff, usually cute rather than funny. Tati recycles gags that might have been used by vaudevillians or silent comedians; rarely does the dialogue itself have any zing or purpose. A schoolboy prank that causes pedestrians to walk into light poles is as mischievous as things ever get. Hulot accidentally busts the water supply to the fish fountain and oversees a malfunctioning hose production unit, but the mishaps never get truly out of control, and certainly never approach the dangerous. The gags get elaborate, but go on for some time without much payoff, making them more to be admired than beloved. It’s hard to dislike Jacques Tati, but I’m not the biggest fan of these Hulot pictures. Like a beautifully plated but insubstantial French dish, there’s an awful lot of mise en scene to chew on for very little nourishment.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…perceptibly contrived when it lingers too long and gets too deeply into the dullness of things mechanical. After you’ve pushed one button and one modernistic face, you’ve pushed them all.”–Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “christine,” who called it a “totally weird but fun 1958 French movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

ORSON WELLES’ TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

Only could produce a masterpiece out of a film starring as a Mexican. Of course, the story of Welles’ rise and fall is practically legendary. At 26, he made that greatest of American films, Citizen Kane (1941), which took on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in a thinly disguised biopic. Welles’ was already at work on his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) when the backlash from Kane sent RKO into a panicFearing another flop, studio executives took Ambersons away from the young filmmaker, gave it a happy ending, and recut it. The result was a truncated masterpiece, which should have been the equal of Welles’ first film. Welles’ was practically backlisted and spent the rest of his career primarily in Europe, acting in almost anything to scrape up enough money to produce his own films.

Welles had already been cast for the role of Captain Quinlan in Touch of Evil when co-star Charlton Heston dared to suggest that the man who made Citizen Kane could also direct. According to Heston’s “Actor’s Journals” memoirs, the producers initially thought his advice was ludicrous, but realized that they would essentially be getting a “two for the price of one” (actor and director) bargain. Welles was signed on to direct, and immediately re-wrote the screenplay for Whit Masteron’s[1] novel “Badge of Evil.” The result was another repeating chapter in Welles’ ongoing story: the film was a commercial flop until later audiences discovered it.

Of course, there is a very small body of hopelessly predictable, wannabe filmmakers and critics who erroneously fancy themselves as “going against the establishment consensus” by denying the artistic merits of Welles, Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, or The Trial (1962). Such an attitude is like that of the equally small minority in contemporary pop music who feebly attempt to deny or protest the artistry of t, simply because that band set the bar too high. However, as an art professor once told me: “If you want to be a great painter, then you have to know great painting.”  Those who are too uninformed to know the difference between elitism and discernment can be dismissed. Failure to recognize the aesthetic eminence of Welles’ or his greatest works renders one superfluous.

Still from Touch of Evil (1958)Touch of Evil does not merely stand with Welles’ best work, it also stands among the greatest achievements of American cinema. On the surface, it shouldn’t. After all, it’s garish, grotesque, and pure sleaze; indeed starring Charlton Heston and Marlene Dietrich both in Mexican makeup, which almost amounts to black face, an obscenely obese[2], dissipated Welles in padded nose, Za Za Gabor (in a small part), and some of the most laughable dialogue writing ever committed to celluloid… until you recognize it as the baroque, pulp parody it is.

Janet Leigh, Akim Tamiroff, Joseph Calleia, Gabor, and Dennis Weaver are delightful. Under Welles’ direction Heston shines in his most emotionally complex role as Mike Vargas, making one wish the actor/director team had worked together more often (Heston, worshipful of Welles, attempted to commission the director for both 1970’s Julius Caeasar and 1972’s Antony and Cleopatra). Dietrich, as the Mexican fortune telling Gypsy whore Tana, delivers jaw dropping zingers with characteristic aplomb: “He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?” and “You should lay off the candy bars, honey. You’re a mess. Your future is all used up.” She could have been making epitaphs for Welles himself, whose last American film this was. Despite being hailed, even in its botched studio cut, by luminaries such as , François Truffaut, and , and highly praised throughout Europe, Touch of Evil was relegated to playing on double “B” movie bills in artless America. Naturally, Welles was blamed, and considered finished by the studio systems.

Volumes have been written about the twelve minute opening shot, Welles’ choreography, and the virtuoso black and white camerawork of cinematographer Russell Metty. Part of the film’s initial stateside rejection was undoubtedly due to the meddling of Universal executives who recut the film, attempting to make the roaming, overlapping, unorthodox narrative into something linear (it didn’t work). A disgusted Welles disowned the cut. Just as he stuck by Sam Peckinpah when the studio interfered with Major Dundee, Heston condemned Universal for mutilating Welles’ work. Seven years after Welles’ death, editor Walter Murch, following the original script and volumes of memos, restored Touch of Evil to the director’s intent. In its mid-90s theatrical re-release, American critics loudly echoed their European counterparts, making it a belated success, which is only fitting. It’s terrific entertainment. Watch it first for its aesthetics, then again for its narrative.

  1. A pseudonym for authors Bob Wade and H. Bill Miller. []
  2. Welles was actually not as obese as portrayed here (or as he was in later life). Low camera angles and makeup assist Welles the director in making Welles the actor look his worst. The result is his greatest role since Falstaff. []

174. VERTIGO (1958)

“If Vertigo remains, unchallengeably, Hitchcock’s masterpiece, this is surely because there the attitude to the unknown and mysterious is not simply one of terror but retains, implicitly, a profound and disturbing ambivalence.”–Robin Wood, “Hitchcock’s Films

“Only one film had been capable of portraying insane memory, impossible memory: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.”—Sans Soleil

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: James Stewart, , Barbara Bel Geddes

PLOT: During a rooftop pursuit of a fleeing suspect, John “Scottie” Ferguson finds himself hanging from a drainpipe; the uniformed cop who tries to save him slips and falls to his death. Suffering from debilitating acrophobia and vertigo, as well as survivor’s guilt, Scottie quits the police force. An old college acquaintance offers him a job tailing his wife, and Scottie becomes obsessed with the beautiful and mysterious woman who believes she is possessed by the spirit of a suicidal ancestor.

Still from Vertigo (1958)
BACKGROUND:

  • The source of Vertigo was the novel “D’Entre Les Morts” (translated in English as “The Living and the Dead”), by the French writing team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Hitchcock had wanted to adapt the pair’s first novel, “Celle qui n’était plus,” but the rights were sold to a French company and it was made as Les Diaboliques by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Boileau-Narcejac would later write the screenplay for Les Yeux Sans Visage [Eyes Without a Face] (1960).
  • Hitchcock bought the rights to Vertigo back from Paramount (along with four other 1950s-era films), then willed them to his daughter. The film went out of circulation for many years. The rights eventually ended up with rival studio Universal, who restored and re-released the film theatrically (in 1983 and again, after a major restoration, in 1996) to great acclaim.
  • The dizzying “vertigo” effect (sometimes known as the “dolly zoom” or “trombone shot”) is the film’s most famous technical innovation: the camera tracks backwards on a dolly while simultaneously zooming the lens, resulting in  a disorienting visual experience of moving backwards and forwards simultaneously.
  • Abstract Expressionist painter John Ferren designed the dream sequence.
  • A controversial flashback scene reveals the “twist ending” about two-thirds of the way through the movie. Before the film’s release Hitchcock decided to remove this sequence, over the strenuous objections of his producer, Herbert Coleman. After preview audiences were unimpressed by the flashback-free cut, the studio ordered Hitchcock to return the film to the way it was originally shot.
  • Vertigo, which was exceedingly dark compared to the average Jimmy Stewart vehicle, was not as successful as Hitchcock’s previous hits such as 1954’s Rear Window, and barely broke even at the box office. The scale of its initial failure is often exaggerated, however, for the sake of a good story: it qualified more as a minor disappointment than a flop. The contemporaneous reviews were also mixed (leaning towards positive with reservations about plausibility and pacing), rather than universally negative, as is sometimes implied.
  • In the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll, Vertigo replaced Citizen Kane, the top vote getter every year since the poll’s inception in 1962, as the greatest movie of all time. (It ranked #7 on the director’s poll, where Tokyo Story took the top spot).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It has to come from the dream sequence. Although we chose Jimmy Stewart’s head floating against a shifting kaleidoscope background to illustrate this review, the most thematically significant image is the male shadow falling, first onto a terracotta rooftop and then through a white void (this figure is incorporated into the original Saul Bass-designed poster, where it combines with the movie’s other significant motif, the spiral).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Vertigo may be one of the most subtly strange movies out there. It’s entirely possible to watch it and see it as no more than a conventionally (if implausibly) plotted mystery. But peer into its vortex closer and you’ll see why this brightly lit but oddly dreamlike tragedy has fascinated generations of moviegoers: in its depths hides madness, illusion, necrophilia, sexual domination, a perverse longing for death, guilt, and the grinding gears of merciless fate. There’s a reason Vertigo is a cult movie. It doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Watch it again, with your weird eyes.


Re-release trailer for Vertigo

COMMENTS: Did any movie produced under the Hollywood studio system ever torture its protagonist as mercilessly as Vertigo torments Scottie Continue reading 174. VERTIGO (1958)

HENRY KING’S THE BRAVADOS (1958)

Henry King may be the most quintessentially American of American filmmakers. Compared to the likes of the stylized extrovert John Ford, King is a straightforward director and, therefore, remains one of the underrated American symphonists (putting him in good company with forever underrated fellow American symphonists, such as David Diamond and Paul Creston). Twelve O’ Clock High (1949), The Gunfighter (1950) and The Bravados (1958) are all integral canvases of the American frontier landscape that King made with Gregory Peck, yet the latter two languish in near obscurity.

King often directed Peck, and in Peck King had his best collaborator. Gregory Peck was the real deal. With Peck, one does not have to separate the artist or the persona from the actual person (as we have to do with ). Gregory Peck fit the bill of integrity and nobility on and off-screen and, thus, personifies the best and most honestly masculine qualities in the Western (which, along with jazz, is one of the two great American art forms).

Together, King and Peck vividly imprinted these qualities into each film without flinching from the flaws, warts and frailties which flesh out and give resonance to well-rounded characters. King and Peck had created their previous Western, The Gunfighter, eight years earlier. That is a film which deserves all the accolades it has received. The Bravados has less of a reputation. It is a very different film than The Gunfighter, yet it deserve a wider audience. While The Gunfighter was shot in stark black and white, in color The Bravados benefits greatly from cinematographer Leon Shamroy’s sense of composition and use of ethereal blue filters.

Still from The Bravados (1958)The Bravados, at first, seems to be another standard revenge film, but it is the juxtaposition of faith and violence that gives this film its tense individuality. Here again, we have the authenticity of Peck, the man of a deep Catholic faith that informs his role, imbuing it with a striking intensity. Peck conveys emotions with expert skill, acting with his eyes and an internal hesitancy. He stops short of speaking several times. Peck makes this a remarkable role.

Then, in direct contrast, is Joan Collins. Playing the old flame, Collins was still fairly early in her career, and it shows. Despite her reputation, Collins did eventually sharpen her acting skills considerably, but that improvement is not yet in evidence here. In several scenes, such as her initial reunion with Peck, discovering his past via a local priest, or pleading with him to take revenge, Collins is stiff. Her part is also underwritten and awkward, rendering her mostly decor, a role she does succeed in filling out. Still, Peck’s attraction to her never registers.

Future Stooge Joe DeRita is quite good in his eccentric characterization. His is a small role, but he fleshes it out with personality, making one wish he had gone this route instead. Of the four antagonists, only Stephen Boyd and Henry Silva have any real personality. Boyd is a real, slimy threat. Silva is admirably restrained when face-to-face with his hunter.

The shifting landscapes make for interesting expressionist parallels. The rugged, rocky canyon terrain gives way to an ominous forest in which Peck both murders and escapes murder. A waterfall provides temporary sustenance. A small, claustrophobic cabin houses the ugly, terrible truth. The unrealistically large Catholic parish contains the vast possibilities of sanctuary and redemption, but that is only reached after revelation at the home of the good thief, where Peck meets surprising hospitality and familiarity.

The Bravados is a harsh, brooding, tautly paced example of the 1950s western at its most adult. Despite some minor flaws, it is a stand-out in its genre, during a great decade.

I BURY THE LIVING (1958)

 exemplifies the star of yesteryear. He was not a twenty-something, pretty Twilight boy chiseled out of wax. He was craggy and already middle-aged when cast as Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel,” television’s greatest westerns series. Boone was a perfect anti-hero and a memorable, complex villain in countless films, including ‘s The Tall T (1957). Despite his rough exterior, Boone was an erudite actor, and his proudest accomplishment may have been the tragically short-lived “Richard Boone Show” (1963) which brought repertory theater to small screen American audiences (even if, predictably, the fare was too original for that audience). Boone’s way to starring roles from character parts was a slow one, and his early body of work included low budget genre films, such as the quirky, flawed gem, I Bury The Living (1958).

Boone, one year into the iconic “Have Gun Will Travel,” is as understated in I Bury the Living as the movie’s title is trashy. The film was directed by prolific Z-movie director Albert Band (father of Full Moon Productions’ Charles Band), who gives it a brooding, British noir milieu, employing psychedelic montages (shot by cinematographer Frederick Gatelyand) and expressionist sets (from Edward Vorkapich). It plays like an extended “Twilight Zone” episode with one noticeable difference: an ending which almost kills it.

Still from I Bury the Living (1958)Bob Kraft (Boone) inherits the family graveyard. Former groundskeeper Andy McKee (, who gives a good performance despite an awful Scottish accent) is retiring after 40 years. McKee shows Kraft a large map of the cemetery. The map is basically a pin board: white pins indicate an empty plot, and black ones an occupied plot. When Kraft accidentally places a black pin in the plot assigned to a living person, that person dies. And so it goes. Kraft goes mad after multiple deaths, believing he has the power of life and death via those pins.

What is most remarkable about the film is its low budget style (shot almost entirely in a L.A. cemetery), including what may be the creepiest map in celluloid history. The map transforms several times, growing menacingly. It is like Doran Grey’s canvas as if painted by Franz Kline. In one effective vignette, the map looks like a giant mirror adorned in black pins. Kraft’s mental state and Gerald Fried’s thrashing score parallel the mirror.

A film like this should have gone out in a blaze of glory. Instead, a cop-out finale unconvincingly reveals a disgruntled employee and we don’t buy it one bit. The final montage pulls out all the “Twilight Zone” stops in a imitative way. Despite the flaws, I Bury the Living  is deserving of its sleeper status. Unfortunately , the producers did little to promote it, and the film became buried until it became a mild cult favorite, fell into the public domain, and was lauded by that Fort Knox of obscure genre gold: Sinister Cinema.

THE HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) AND DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

This post is part of an ongoing series on Hammer horror director Terence Fisher.

Christopher Lee, as Dracula, greets John Van Eyssan’s Jonathan Harker and basically says, “Welcome, glad to have you as my librarian. That picture of your fiancee is lovely.  I have to leave now, good bye.” After that, Dracula never speaks another word in the Horror of Dracula (1958). End to end, his footage probably runs less than fifteen minutes.

Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster present Bram Stoker’s vampire as a feeding predator. To his victims, he is attractive and desirable. Throughout his Hammer films, Terence Fisher clearly presents evil as erotic temptation. Seen in this light, Dracula’s silent, predatory portrayal in the first “true” sequel—Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)—makes perfect sense. This is what sets Fisher apart from his predecessors who told the same story, and the successors who imitated (and exaggerated) his style in increasingly inferior sequels.

In F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), the vampire is loathsome and repulsive. In Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) the vampire has far more static dialogue, and more charisma, albeit in a silent film stylized theatricality.  With Fisher’s take on the subject, the erotic quality of the antagonist is pronounced, fleshy, and unmistakable.  Yet, Fisher and Sangster also expertly balanced that sensuality with the narrative, never allowing the eroticism to become a caricature the way successors did (thus robbing the series of its freshness).

Compare Fisher’s direction of Dracula’s seduction scene to Freddie Francis’ in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968).   In the former, Dracula seduces Mina (Melissa Stribling).  The scene is shot in a series of extreme close-ups.  Mina expresses dread (with a quivering lip) and breathy anticipation.   Dracula enters her room and descends upon her bed-ridden form.  As he draws towards her, his lips part.  The next sight of Mina is unconsciously collapsed on her bed, violated, blood lightly splattered on her throat and gown.  It is the blood of her husband (in a transfusion) that saves her life.

Still from Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)In Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, the vampire approaches Zena (Barbara Ewing) in the forest.  Zena nearly spills out of her top and the vampire removes one extra snap for increased spillage.  The attention is so drawn to the stripping that the narrative is second thought.  Later, when Veronica Carlson is seduced by Dracula, her Victorian doll falls from her bed, awkwardly symbolizing the loss of innocence.

As superb as Christopher Lee is in his role as the Count, Peter Cushing is the quintessential Continue reading THE HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) AND DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958)

Writer Dalton Trumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood 10, that list of 10 Hollywood screenwriters whose political leanings got them blacklisted, jailed and kicked out of a guild they helped create. Hollywood did to them what the Germans did the “degenerate artists” twenty years before. Trumbo was probably the best of these writers and wrote a mind boggling number of excellent scripts, from his bathtub, as he smoked through 6 packs of cigarettes with his parrot on his shoulder, cheering him on. Only such an eccentric original could have fashioned Terror in a Texas Town (1958). Team Trumbo with B-movie maestro Joseph “Wagon Wheel” H. Lewis and a cast of idiosyncratic character actors and you get a peach of movie such as this.

Trumbo wasn’t the only victim of the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) associated with this film. Actors Ned Young and Sterling Hayden were also called before the committee. Young was also a screenwriter. Jailhouse Rock (1957), The Defiant Ones(1958), Inherit the Wind (1960), and The Train (1964) are among his credits, most of which he wrote under pseudonyms. Young refused to cooperate with the HUAC and was blacklisted as well. Hayden caved into the committee and gave them what they wanted, which cost him much in the long run. All this has given Terror in a Texas Town a cult status as a quirky reaction to the HUAC. The reputation is well-deserved.

The film opens to George Fried’s bizarre score as Swede George Hansen (Sterling Hayden) walks down a dirt road in the middle of Prairie City, Texas. George is mad as hell, he means business and he’s carrying a big whaling harpoon over his shoulder to prove it. George is followed by bloodthirsty, local farmers who are mad as hell, too.
Still from Terror in a Texas Town (1958)
They meet up with the object of their anger; southpaw gunslinger Johnny Crale (Ned Young, uncannily resembling Bogart and dressed from head to toe in black). Johnny is ready to face and kill George. Johnny taunts George, “You’re a little too far away. Come a little bit closer. You wouldn’t want to disappoint your friends. They all came here to see blood. Come a little bit closer so they can see. I want to give you a fighting chance. Five steps. One step, Hansen.” George hangs his head in shame. It seems this is something he cannot go through with.

Titles roll through a typical Lewis shot of wagon wheel spokes. The farming townspeople are being bullied and driven out by local oil baron Ed McNeil (Sebastian Cabot, projecting slimy finesse in excellent form). McNeil likes the finer things in life and that includes women, food, champagne and land ownership; but the local farmers are uncooperative when it comes to their land, which McNeil wants to mine. McNeil utilizes the talents of gunslinger Johnny to get his dirty deeds done. Pa Hansen is one of those farmers, and he is murdered by Johnny. Pa’s employee, Jose (Victor Millan, also in excellent form) witnesses the murder, but his wife wants him to remain silent. At this point, Terror in a Texas Town may seem like a formulaic movie, but underneath the surface this is a bleak film, dripping in cynical parody. That becomes apparent when Pa’s son, George, arrives in Prairie City after being at sea for 19 years. George is returning to help his Pa, until he learns the awful truth that his Daddy has been shot and killed. With no help from the townspeople, George intends to find out who killed his Pa and why.

Both the Sheriff and McNeil attempt to coerce George into leaving, but his stubborn refusal brings Johnny in to handle the situation. George befriends Jose and his family, who also are being threatened to leave. After Crane and McNeil’s thugs beat Hansen and put him on a train out of town, Hansen walks all the way back, bloodied and more persistent than ever. Jose is inspired by Hansen and makes his stand. Millan gives a powerhouse performance as Jose when he overcomes his fear and faces Crane, knowing full well that Crane will kill him. The ruthless Crane does just that, but he is shaken by Jose’s courage. Young is equally superb in this scene and, little doubt, reacted to Millan’s Jose by tapping into his own courage when he faced the Hollywood inquisitors. Young makes Crane one of the most interesting, classic western villains, who can stand alongside Lee Marvin’s Liberty Valance and Jack Palance’s Jack Wilson. Crane’s girlfriend, Molly (Carol Kelly) tells him that she stays with him because she can look up to see someone lower than herself. Molly is very attuned to irony. She sees Johnny as an anachronism, forced for years to use his left hand after his right hand was rendered useless in a gunfight. “You’re no good anymore,” she says, hinting at something far more than a paralyzed gun hand. Johnny knows it too; he’s a savage killer riddled with angst.

Aptly, George rallies support in a local church, grabs his Pa’s whaling harpoon and heads to one of the strangest shoot-outs in screen history. It’s an odd finale to an equally odd film and film career (it was Lewis’ final film). Terror in a Texas Town arrived at the tail end of a politically troubled decade made for this American genre. It makes for a helluva showdown.

This article was posted in a slightly different form at Raging Bull Movie Reviews.