TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN. United Artists, 1958. Sterling Hayden, Sebastian Cabot, Carol Kelly, Eugene Martin, Ned Young, Victor Millan, Frank Ferguson. Screenwriter: Ben Perry (as a front for Dalton Trumbo). Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

   Mention of Nedrick Young [in my previous review ] may have baffled some of you out there, so I should say he was a sometime-actor/sometime screen-writer who wrote Jailhouse Rock and won an Oscar for The Defiant Ones, which he had to accept under a pseudonym because he was black-listed.


   He also appears uncredited and disguised by a heavy beard in House of Wax (1953) but Young’s chief claim to fame is his portrayal of the sympathetically loathsome gunfighter in a little cheapie called Terror in a Texas Town (1958).

   This was the last feature film of director Joseph H. Lewis, and a fitting cap to a career that started out in B-westerns and veered through such films as Gun Crazy and So Dark the Night. Terror moves with that manic intensity sometimes seen within the febrile reaches of desperate cinema, parading its clichés like a magician doing card-tricks, flashing one at us where we expect to see another, till the whole thing speed-shuffles itself into one of the most bizarre shoot-outs in the movies.

   In all this delirium, there’s little time for serious acting, which is why it’s surprising to see some very nice turns here from thespians whose careers were mostly marginal. Sterling Hayden does a very creditable job as a Swedish sailor (a thematic echo of John Wayne in The Long Voyage Home) out west to join his father who has bitten the dust, courtesy of gluttonous Land Baron Sebastian Cabot.


   Someone named Carol Kelly plays a poignantly masochistic kept woman, whose keeper is the declining gunfighter Johnny Crale, played here by Nedrick Young.

   Young somehow brings real feeling to a stock character here. Black-clad, with six-guns at his hips, he strides about with a weary grace, his balletic movements always somehow tired and over-practiced, as he goes through the motions of pleading with his victims not to make him fulfill his destiny, or begs his opponent to get closer for a fair fight.

   That bit happens in the final confrontation in the middle of a dusty street, and it seems less a cliché than one would think, thanks to Young’s assured playing and Lewis’s vigorous direction.

   Perhaps the performances stand out because director Lewis puts them in such stark relief. Or it may be just a matter of budget that there are no extras in this Texas town till the last reel. Whatever the case, Terror lingers in the memory as an authentically strange film and even a rather good one.