Friday, March 22, 2013


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, clichĂ© 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.

Terror In A Texas Town is showing on Turner Classic Movies this Tuesday, March 26 at 5 PM Eastern.

Friday, March 1, 2013


The Five Doctors and K-9
I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who for going on 30 years now. The first Doctor that I watched, as it was for many fans my age, was the fourth Doctor played by Tom Baker. Like many American fans, I watched Doctor Who on public television. In the mid 80s, PBS finally aired nearly all available episodes of Who. This was an incredible experience as I was able to see all of the previous Doctors and take in the massive history and complex continuity of series. Some of my favorite episodes where those in which the Doctor met and teamed up with his previous incarnations. The first of these team-ups was in the episode The Three Doctors. The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) had been exiled to earth by the Time Lords, his knowledge of time travel and the ability to pilot his time machine the “Tardis” taken from him as punishment along with a forced regeneration (as we saw in the final Second Doctor episode The War Games). In The Three Doctors, the Time Lords of Gallifrey face the threat of Omega, a Time Lord pioneer who created the singularity that gives the Time Lords their power. Omega was thought long dead but had actually been trapped in a universe made of antimatter and had become quite insane. The only person the Time Lords can turn to is The Doctor. But the threat of Omega is so great that one Doctor isn’t enough. So they unite the Third Doctor with his first two incarnations. Together they stop Omega and save the universe. In return for their help, the Time Lords end the Third Doctor’s exile and return the use of his Tardis.

Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in The Three Doctors
This wouldn’t be the last time that a Doctor would team up with his past selves. In the anniversary special to end all anniversary specials The Five Doctors, the power mad Time Lord Borusa kidnaps the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) along with Doctors one(Richard Hurndall replacing the late William Hartnell), two(Patrick Troughton), three(Jon Pertwee) and four(Tom Baker) and traps them in a game of death with their deadliest foes. We would see another team up a few years later between the Second Doctor and the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) as they take on the Sontarons.

Patrick Troughton and Colin Baker in The Two Doctors
Episodes of Doctor Who that united multiple Doctors was a special treat for fans. It gave fans a sense of the characters long history. These team-up episodes united Pertwee fans with Davison fans with Baker fans with Troughton fans and so on and so on, giving Who fans a larger and stronger sense of community. This is something that viewers who are new to Doctor Who have not been able to experience. We have not seen Doctors nine, ten and 11 team up and frankly, I doubt we ever will. It’s possible that we might see an episode that unites David Tennant(Dr.10) and Matt Smith(Dr.11) but I‘m not really holding my breath on that one.

William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee as Doctors 1, 2 and 3 in The Three Doctors
Among older fans, those who grew up with the classic episodes of Doctors 1 thru 7, there’s this stubborn single-mindedness that we MUST see Tom Baker and that we MUST see those original actors who played the Doctor. Or at least those who are still living. This might sound heretical, but I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s time we said goodbye to those actors who played the first seven Doctors once and for all. We should say goodbye and recast Doctors 1 thru 7 with new, fresh actors, keeping in mind of course that they need to be recast with actors who resemble the originals to some extent in looks and to a large part, in spirit. I know, I know but hear me out. We have to face reality here. The first three actors to play the Doctor are dead. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvyster McCoy are simply far too old to reprise their roles without having to come up with some lame plot point to explain their age as we saw in Time Crap…er Crash. Sorry, but I did not like Time Crash at all. I thought the Davison cameo was poorly handled and frankly, insulting. It was a joke at Davison‘s expense and at the expense of classic Doctor Who. Look, I love Peter Davison. He was THE Doctor of my generation but we have to think of the show first and foremost and if the Doctor is to continue, if we want to see the tapestry of continuity that is Doctor Who continue on, if we ever want to see more of the Doctors past, his history in a way that makes it appealing to those currently producing and writing Doctor Who, then we must recast new actors to play the Doctors previous incarnations. It is the only way.

Time Crash.  Are you freaking kidding me?
New actors will allow us to see new adventures of the old Doctors. This will also free producers from having to make complicated and problematic deals with the original actors. New actors would give more freedom to current writers of Who to write new adventures with the classic Doctors that they can make their own. It would allow writers/producers, if they so choose, to make tweaks to old continuity and bring past tales more in line with the continuity of the new adventures. New actors would allow for the possibility of classic Who spin-off tales. Just think of the possibilities of new stories featuring classic Doctors! Been wanting to see an adaptation of The Dark Path, the Doctor Who novel that showed how The Doctor and The Master went from being best friends to mortal enemies? New actors could make that happen. Want to see the episode that shows the Doctor and Susan stealing the Tardis and beginning their epic adventure? Recasting the classic Doctors could make that happen. And speaking of The Dark Path, how about a new actor to play a young Roger Delgado era Master who fights ALL versions of The Doctor? That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Recasting new actors would also give more freedom to those actors playing the current Doctor who want to work on different projects but still want to work on Doctor Who. I’d like to see Matt Smith continue on in the role for a few more years but he’s getting ready to leave. If we did a couple seasons of Doctor Who that told new tales of Doctors one thru 7, that would allow Smith to go on hiatus for any length of time and return to the role having sewn his wild oats and sated his wanderlust. That safety net would allow actors to stay in the role of the Doctor for longer periods of time, something that I think is important in maintaining the longevity of the show.

I miss you Roger Delgado.  You really were The Master!
No one thought twice about it when Richard Hurndall replaced the late William Hartnell. There was no other choice. We are in that position again. Two more Doctors have passed away and three more are virtually unrecognizable. Paul McGann is the only actor that I would not recast. We have no idea how long the Time War lasts or in what shape Doctor Eight was in when he regenerated. This means that McGann, who still looks great based on what I’ve seen of his appearances in Luther, would still be the prime candidate to reprise his role. I want to see more classic Who episodes. I think it’s important for the series, for fans young and old and most importantly for the character. And just think of the marketing benefits. Not to mention the press the show would receive if they started recasting new actors to play the old Doctors. That would be the most historic casting call since the search for Scarlet O’Hara. The possibilities are literally endless. This is unquestionably the best possible thing for Doctor Who, for show creators and for fans. No one can steal your memories of your favorite Doctor or what he meant to you. We still have those old episodes. Recasting will allow fans to have their cake and eat it too.