Former lawman turned fugitive John Sands (Rod Cameron - The Gun Hawk) is hiding out in Mexico with the Texas Marshals he once worked with now hunting him down. But whilst hiding out he learns from "Dusty" Stewart (Cathy Downs - My Darling Clementine) that his brother Billy Sands (John C. Champion), a newspaperman, has been murdered. Despite the risks of being caught John decides to head to the panhandle to get his brother's killer.
Expectation can be a bad thing, it's your birthday and you have expectations over getting that present you really wanted only to be let down by getting another pack of socks. But expectation works in the other way and as I sat down to watch "Panhandle" I was expecting just another long forgotten b-western which does little else but deliver cliches. Well what else do you expect from a synopsis which has such cliches as a lawman turned outlaw looking for revenge for his brother's murder. But whilst the storyline to "Panhandle" is nothing more than a familiar western storyline writers John C. Champion and Blake Edwards play about with that familiar and that left me conflicted because in a strange way I watched "Panhandle" because I just wanted cliche not something more.
So what is different about "Panhandle" I hear you say? Well to put it simply the writers and director Lesley Selander serve up a familiar scene such as one featuring a crooked game of poker and then twists something in it to make it different. They also make the action larger than you expect from this sort of western and in doing so not only make "Panhandle" entertaining but in a strange way keep you on your toes. It also leads you to wonder how things are going to play out, of course there will be a shootout but what sort of shootout? And it is a reasonably clever one at that.
The only thing for me which is wrong about "Panhandle" is that it ends up an anonymous western. Rod Cameron is solid as Sands, the bad guys are solid as bad guys and Cathy Downs is quite hot as "Dusty" Stewart but the characters are so ordinary that they are not the most interesting of people.
What this all boils down to is that "Panhandle" is a b-western but one which has some nice variations on the usual familiar scenes which make it more than background noise.