Thursday, June 07, 2012

Texas Toasted

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (Joseph H. Lewis, 1958)

Well, it was another great night at the Portage Theater in Chicago, with a beautiful mint 35 mm print of a terrific film. With its storyline of a community crumbling from fear and intimidation, in danger of falling prey to divide-and-conquer tactics, the script by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo makes an obvious reference to the McCarthy hearings. But the plot is shared by many westerns. What's unusual is the slow build and heavy sense of dread, set up in part by the pre-credits flash-forward to the climactic showdown (which I'll return to later).

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN has a quiet intensity, with a minimalist score and repeated, rhythmic theme, and the stark, underpopulated feel that permeates many low budget films. But the intensity goes further, extending to Hayden's performance as the Swedish whaler, George Hansen. The actor fills the screen with his lumbering physicality, at times seething with repressed emotion. By far the most interesting character is Crayle, the brooding, black-clad gunman played by Nedrick Young. The personification of the pall that hangs over the entire film, Crale carries death and doom in his tired gait and equally black worldview. His perverse relationship with his companion Molly (Carol Kelly) recalls other such sexually twisted and charged couples in director Lewis's GUN CRAZY and THE BIG COMBO.

The pre-credits flash-forward I referred to earlier is effective, but is also a bit odd in a feature. It is likely it was inspired by the technique to hook viewers used in television shows at the time. But its novelty made me wonder if it was planned in pre-production by Lewis, or added later in the editing by the producer.

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