Friday, August 15, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Man From Galveston (1963)

THE MAN FROM GALVESTON (1963) is an interesting curiosity, a 57-minute black and white Western available from the Warner Archive.

THE MAN FROM GALVESTON stars Jeffrey Hunter in the title role as flashy circuit-riding attorney Timothy Higgins. The film was originally shot as a pilot for Hunter, which ultimately morphed into a different series playing a character with the same initials, TEMPLE HOUSTON (1963-64). THE MAN FROM GALVESTON, thus orphaned, was released theatrically.

THE MAN FROM GALVESTON also stars Preston Foster as circuit riding district judge Homer Black, with James Coburn as Marshal Boyd Palmer, with whom Higgins enjoys a friendly rivalry. In fact, when the characters first meet it's disclosed that Coburn carries Higgins' gun, marked with the initials TH.

The film was produced by Jack Webb and directed by actor William Conrad. I hadn't realized that Conrad had an extensive TV directing career, which among other things included several episodes of Hunter's later TEMPLE HOUSTON series. Conrad and Webb had costarred in Webb's newspaper film -30- (1959).

The plot, such as it is, concerns what happens when the district court arrives for a session in a small Texas town. The arrival of court week is greeted with great excitement, with the residents treating it more as a theatrical diversion than a serious legal proceeding.

Attorney Higgins represents various clients, including the husband (Kevin Hagen) of an old flame (Joanna Moore) who's charged with murder.

The three lead actors play their roles with energy and make this little movie watchable. It ends with Marshal Palmer permanently detailed to provide security for the circuit court judge, which set up an interesting premise for the potential series, with the three men riding from town to town encountering different stories as they go. Alas, it was not to be.

The hour is somewhat marred by various things, such as a score by David Buttolph which at certain moments seems more '60s sitcom than Western, and, as so often happens in '60s period films, some of the women's hair screams '60s rather than "old West." In the end, this film is diverting but isn't much more than a mildly interesting little footnote in TV and movie Western history.

Other than Hunter, Foster, and Coburn, the movie is a who's who of television actors of the era, including Kevin Hagen and Karl Swenson (both of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE), Edward Andrews, Joanna Moore (mother of Tatum O'Neal), and Ed Nelson, who just passed away last weekend at the age of 85.

Martin West plays Hunter's eager young Harvard-trained assistant. At one point, after an unorthodox legal maneuver, he asks "Is that legal?" and Hunter replies "At Harvard, no; in Texas, maybe!"

It's interesting that Sherwood Price plays a villain and eventual murder victim named George Taggart, but in the later series TEMPLE HOUSTON, Jack Elam costars with Hunter as a character named...George Taggart. There's a different judge in half a dozen episodes of TEMPLE HOUSTON, played by the great character actor Frank Ferguson.

There are no extras on the fine-looking Warner Archive DVD release of THE MAN FROM GALVESTON, which was rented from ClassicFlix.

As a related note, I was interested to learn there was a 2011 book, JEFFREY HUNTER AND TEMPLE HOUSTON: A STORY OF NETWORK TELEVISION, written by Glenn A. Mosley and published by Bear Manor Media.


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