Watching Terror In A Texas Town (1958) is a bit like watching a Twilight Zone episode. We get a bit of strangeness at the very beginning, then a slow build up to the main irony filled denouement that we tuned in to watch in the first place. Kind of like tapping your foot, looking at your watch, waiting for Billy Mummy to turn the “very bad man” into a jack in the box. In Terror In A Texas Town, Sebastian Cabot plays a rich guy who wants other peoples land. Seems that only he knows the land is oil rich. Then a Swedish farmer played by Ted Stanhope finds out about the oil. But before he can warn the frightened farmers, he is killed by Cabot’s hired gun Ned Young. Young plays every black clad, cliché western villain all rolled up into one. But he does have a few special features. Like an iron hand which replaces the real one which he lost when it was blown off in a past encounter. This hand is covered by a black glove (most likely because the budget didn’t allow for a fake iron hand).
Enter Sterling Hayden. Hayden is the son of the dead Swedish farmer. He’s been at sea for the last 18 years doing a bit of whaling. It doesn’t take long for fish out of water Hayden to discover that Cabot and Young run the town, most likely killed his father and sees that anyone who stands up to them will be killed. Of course Cabot tries to have Hayden run out of town first. Young, a pragmatist, prefers to pay people off rather than kill them but ultimately we know it’s going to come down to harpoon carrying Hayden vs steel handed Young in one of the craziest showdowns in the history of the genre.
This movie was bad, but in a fun way. How can you not appreciate the giant Frankenstein like Hayden, walking down the dusty street looking to harpoon the bad guy? Ned Young as the villain is also kind of funny. He’s never faced a man who isn’t afraid to die and it drives him absolutely nuts to meet one for the first time. There’s also the implication that he feels impotent due to his iron prosthetic which he bludgeons people with as a form of therapy (this is told to us rather than shown, unfortunately). Carol Kelly is Young’s prostitute gal pal, a drunk who only stays with Young because he scares her. But Hayden has a good scene where he delivers a small but effective motivational speech to give her courage. TV level production and cast and unintentionally funny dialogue pretty much places this firmly in the “so bad they’re good” category. My favorite line is when Kelly interrupts a church meeting by saying…
“Pepé is dead and George Hansen is walking down the street with a harpoon. I just thought you’d like to know–and maybe help.”
Yup, that’s pretty much the movie in a nutshell.
Good old Sebastian “Mr. French” Cabot is an amusing villain the likes of which you might find in a typical episode of The Wild Wild West. He has some unintentionally funny scenes as his character seems to only exist to tell us (in hilariously smarmy fashion) the history of iron hand killer Ned Young as well as to push his buttons. I kept thinking how this was a bit of a variation of High Noon (picture Cooper with a harpoon) and then I discovered that Dalton Trumbo wrote the script. I can’t say it’s a great movie, but I can’t say it fails to entertain either. As I mentioned above, there is something about Hayden that makes him inherently watchable and kind of fun. Especially when he’s carrying a harpoon.