B&W, 1958, 80 mins. 40 secs.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Starring Sterling Hayden, Sebastian Cabot, Carol Kelly, Eugene Martin, Ned Young, Victor Millan
Arrow Academy (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/B HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Few Terror in a Texas Towndirectors in Terror in a Texas TownHollywood's golden era could wring more style and visual cleverness out of very little money as Joseph H. Lewis, at least when he put his heart in it. Though routinely saddled with what were perceived as B pictures, he managed to sometimes inject ambitious camerawork and innovative compositions into multiple genres as found in My Name Is Julia Ross, So Dark the Night, Invisible Ghost, The Big Combo, and his absolute masterpiece, Gun Crazy. Lewis's last theatrical feature before moving to television (and one of several pseudonymous scripts by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo), Terror in a Texas Town, is unmistakably his work right off the bat as it sets up an off-kilter, sweaty, paranoid atmosphere designed to get the viewer's blood boiling.

Scheming to take over a sprawling swath of land when oil starts turning up inside a well, conniving, cigar-chomping land baron McNeil (Cabot) uses any means at his disposal to get rid of the inhabitants who own property that stands in his way. Unfortunately one elderly Swedish farmer refuses to budge, so McNeil sends in black-clad, heartless assassin Crale (Young) to take care of the harpoon-wielding land owner. Terror in a Texas TownThe murder is Terror in a Texas Townwitnessed by young Mexican immigrant Pepe (Martin) and his family including landowner Mirada (Millan), but the local authorities aren't motivated to discover the killer's identity. Complications arise when George Hansen (Hayden), the son of the deceased, arrives in town to claim the land he's inherited. After refusing a $300 offer from McNeil, he and the neighbors become targets for harassment and violence that escalate into a final showdown.

With its brief but sharp bursts of violence and sad-eyed view of corrupt justice in ranching communities, Terror in a Texas Town benefits from a sincere leading performance by Hayden (continuing his hot streak after The Killing and Crime of Passion) and a jovial but nasty one by Cabot, who gets to spit out fun lines like "You've never seen death walking around in the shape of a man before." It doesn't shy away from surrealism either, such as the sight of Hayden strolling through the heart of town with a giant whaling harpoon over his shoulder and justice on his mind.

Released Terror in a Texas Townin the '00s on DVD by MGM in the U.S. and Umbrella in Australia, Terror in a Texas Town has been given an impressive visual overhaul here on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy Terror in a Texas Townwith a newly commissioned restoration that looks very natural and detailed with a large amount of organic film grain and deep blacks. Really nothing to complain about here; it looks great throughout with even the darker scenes coming through nice and clear. The English LPCM mono track also sounds sharp and impressive, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. Extras include a Peter Stanfield video intro (13m10s) about Lewis's career and futile attempts to put him in the auteur canon despite the number of anonymous programmers in his filmography, a Stanfield visual analysis (14m14s) of the film's style including repeated movement within the frame and pre-Leone foregrounded objects, and the theatrical trailer.

Reviewed on August 24, 2017.