The Man from Galveston (1963) is an interesting curiosity, a 57-minute black-and-white Western recently released as part of the Warner Archive collection. The Man from Galveston stars Jeffrey Hunter in the title role as flashy 1880s circuit-riding attorney Timothy Higgins. The film, originally shot as a TV pilot for Hunter, ultimately morphed into a different series with the actor playing a character with the same initials, the 1963-64 drama Temple Houston. The Man from Galveston, thus orphaned, was released theatrically.
Also starring in the film was 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 Man from Galveston was produced by Jack Webb for Warner Bros. and directed by actor and future Cannon star 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. Additionally, Conrad and Webb had co-starred in Webb’s 1959 newspaper drama -30- (reviewed here).
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 Hagen and Karl Swenson (both of Little House on the Prairie), Edward Andrews, Moore (mother of Tatum O’Neal), Star Trek co-star Grace Lee Whitney, and Ed Nelson, who passed away earlier this month 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 co-starred 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.
On 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.
Laura Grieve is a lifelong film enthusiast whose thoughts on classic films and Disney can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005. Follow Laura on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LaurasMiscMovie