Provide him with an adequate budget as well as an intelligent script and veteran western director Leslie Selander could make horse operas that were worth-watching more than once. "Panhandle" starring Rod Cameron, Reed Hadley, exemplifies a better than average western with Selander at the helm. Scenarist John C. Champion of "The Texican" and future "Pink Panther" auteur Blake Edwards collaborated on this smart, no-nonsense script. Rod Cameron gives a compelling performance that consists of acting suave with the ladies and tough-talking with his male adversaries. Non-surprisingly, this seasoned western star is cast as a quick-draw gunslinger searching for the lowdown varmints that gunned down his brother. He is the cautious sort and doesn't like to sit in a room unless he has the wall to his back. Essentially, "Panhandle" is a revenge sagebrusher with majestic mountain scenery as well as the feminine pulchritude provided by attractive actresses such as Cathy Downs of John Ford's "My Darling Clementine" and Anne Gwynne of "Ladies Courageous." Reed Hadley makes calculating villain who professes at least to his hired help that he never makes mistakes. Writer Blake Edwards stood in from the camera as a dandified henchmen who wears his six-gun backwards on his left hip. Although it isn't a contemporary film noir, "Six Gun Gospel" lenser Harry Neumann furnishes "Panhandle" with that brooding, pessimistic film noir look that the black & white processing enhances. Selander stages several gunfights, but the after dark shoot-out in the rain with revolvers creating lightning like flashes of light in dark is the best.
John Sands (Rod Cameron of "Bullets Don't Argue") lives across the border in a dusty little Mexican hamlet where he runs a leather goods shop. Once he packed a gun and men stepped aside for him. Now, he shuns guns and walks around without them buckled across his waist. When an irate customer, Jean "Dusty" Stewart (Cathy Downs) believes she has been cheated by one of Sands' employees, Juan (Charles La Torre), she arms herself with a Winchester and threatens to shoot him. Instead, she blows a water jug hanging above his head into shards and drenches him. Sands intervenes and disarms Stewart with a strap of leather that he slings around the rifle barrel and jerks the long gun out of her hands. Sands conducts a search of Jean's wagon and they find the missing saddle that proves Juan didn't cheat her. The conversation changes between Sands and Jean, and she mentions that her father has been one of several men mysteriously slain in the Texas town of Sentinel. Another of the unfortunate victims was Billy Sands. Sands was a fearless newspaper editor who protested about anything controversial. Our protagonist closes up shop and straps on his gun belt. He rides north to Sentinel. Along the way, he proves to himself that he can still handle a six-gun. While he is buying a horse to replace his exhausted steed, Sands encounters Sheriff Jim (Rory Mallinson of "Dark Passage") and his two deputies. Jim vows to arrest Sands for his past crimes since he is back in Texas. Sands blows the gun out of Jim's hands and disarms his two deputies. This is the first of several memorable showdowns in "Panhandle." Earlier, Sands dealt with a cardsharp in a Mexican cantina. Later, three gunslinger on Matt Garson's payroll try to ambush Sands, but he eludes them at the price of leaving a good saddle behind. Matt Garson (Reed Hadley of "Leave Her to Heaven") is the chief villain in "Panhandle," and he is also the galoot who killed Sands' brother. He owns and operates The Last Frontier Saloon. Like John Sands, Billy had renounced the way of the gun and poured his energies into being a crusading reporter. Sands clashes with Garson's men, Floyd Schofield (Blake Edwards of "Leather Gloves") and eventually guns him down during a storm on the muddy streets of Sentinel. Sands gets a room in the Blue Belle Hotel and meets June O'Carroll. She is Garson's secretary. Before he can find out anything about his brother, a three man citizens committee try to persuade him to act as 'a town tamer' and oust Garson from town. John rides out to Jean's ranch, the Circle S, and reveals that he is Billy's older brother by six years. An incredulous Jean explains that Billy and she were planning on getting married. Later, she shows John when Billy has been laid to rest. After everybody on his payroll has failed to liquidate John, Garson gets the drop on our hero, and he is prepared to kill him when June intervenes and saves John's bacon.
"Panhandle" is a good, solid, but old-fashioned western.