“Filmed in Glorious SEPIA TONE!”
Director: Leslie Selander
Cast: Rod Cameron, Cathy Downs, Reed Hadley
Synopsis: John Sands, a former Texas marshal turns to ranching, and later to a gunfighter when he sets out to prove that casino/saloon owner, Matt Garson, had his brother, a newspaperman, killed.
Although it’s a typical B-movie Western tale of revenge, Panhandle stands apart from the mass of similar movies Hollywood churned out in the 1940s and ’50s thanks to assured direction in a genre with which he was all-too familiar from Leslie Selander, and an unusually competent script that observes the conventions of the genre while managing to inject a measure of individuality one would expect to find from a much more prestigious production.
For a while, cute Jean ‘Dusty’ Stewart (Cathy Downs – My Darling Clementine) looks as though she’s going to be leading man Rod Cameron’s love interest, but she’s just there to supply him with the news that his brother has been killed. Cameron is John Sands, a former sheriff turned gunslinger, who is hiding out in Mexico when he receives the news of his journalist brother’s death. Even though he knows returning to the States might well result in him going to prison, Sands decides he must seek vengeance and straps on his brother’s guns in order to speed the process along. He runs into Dusty again in Sentinel, the town in which his brother lived and died, but by then he’s tipped his stetson in the direction of June O’Carroll (Anne Gwynne – Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome). It’s a shame: O’Carroll is pretty enough, but nothing out of the ordinary by Hollywood standards, but Downs, who just two years earlier was the title character in John Ford’s seminal My Darling Clementine, is by far the more interesting character.
Anyway, it just so happens that O’Carroll works for Matt Garson (Zachary Scott lookalike Reed Hadley – Now, Voyager, The Razor’s Edge), a man with tragic taste when it comes to boots but who, with the help of his dandified sidekick Floyd Schofield (Blake Edwards) has managed to build a criminal empire in Sentinel. He’s also the man who killed Sands’ brother, but is so confident of his privileged status in the town that he isn’t particularly bothered when the dead man’s brother starts sniffing around.
In case you’re wondering, that Blake Edwards is the same Blake Edwards who later found fame as the director of The Pink Panther and husband of Julie Andrews. Panhandle also marks his debut, with producer John C. Champion, as a screenwriter, and even from this early effort its clear he possessed a talent for detail that was wasted on a low-budget Western. There’s one scene in which Sands spins a long tale about how he faced Billy the Kid in a gunfight on a rainy day that really has no place in a movie with such modest ambitions. Moments like the scene in which a cowboy shot for cheating at cards is casually toppled from his chair so that another player can take his place also add a gritty texture that is rare in this kind of movie. It’s no classic by any means – the story of Sand’s quest for revenge too often takes a back seat to less interesting sub-plots – but it’s certainly superior to contemporaneous films with comparable production values.
(Reviewed 15th August 2015)