Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Panhandle (1948)

PANHANDLE is an absolutely terrific Western. Largely unremembered today, it deserves to be rediscovered by Westerns fans; it might not be a classic, but it's a "Darn Good Western" which should more than satisfy fans of the genre.

Rod Cameron plays John Sands, a gunfighter turned merchant who must strap on his guns again when he learns his younger brother has been murdered.

Sands travels to the town where his brother was killed; a leading suspect is town boss Matt Garson (Reed Hadley, the voice of countless docu-noirs). Sands is aided by his late brother's fiancee (Cathy Downs of MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) and Garson's secretary June (Anne Gwynne).

PANHANDLE was an Allied Artists release, notable as the first film coproduced and cowritten by Blake Edwards; it was the next-to-last film in which he had an acting role. Edwards was just 25 at the time, but his story -- cowritten with John C. Champion -- zigs when you think it might zag, and it has some very good dialogue as well. Edwards also does a fine job as a hotheaded hired gun, giving the character a layer of interest often missing from such a stock part; he made me think a bit of Lloyd Bridges in some of his wilder roles.

Director Lesley Selander (COW COUNTRY) does an excellent job with this 85-minute film, including staging an absolutely brutal fistfight, later followed by a memorable gun battle in the rain at dusk; the rain really gives this sequence a different look from the norm. The movie also looks unusual in that it was filmed in sepia by Harry Neumann; at times the picture made me think of old tintypes. Lone Pine locations add additional atmosphere.

I haven't seen a great deal of Rod Cameron's work, and this film made me anxious to see more. His quiet confidence, courtly manners, and quick draw skills combine to make him quite appealing as a Western hero. Fortunately there are two films just out from the Warner Archive, STAMPEDE (1949) and SHORT GRASS (1950), which reunited him with Cathy Downs. I've also got a recording of a film he made with Yvonne DeCarlo, FRONTIER GAL (1945), which I'd love to see come out on DVD.

One of the things I liked about PANHANDLE is that it has two strong women's roles, while avoiding the standard good woman/bad woman cliche. Both women are smart and come through assisting the hero at key moments. Sands has unique relationships with each woman, developing a friendship with one and romancing the other. The romantic angle manages to get a bit steamy for 1948! This is a Western that's really got it all, combining a solid story with action, romance, and a memorable setting. Thumbs up.

I've mentioned in the past that actress Anne Gwynne was the grandmother of actor Chris Pine. With Pine in the news due to the recent release of the new STAR TREK movie, Susan King of the Los Angeles Times wrote a story on Gwynne just last weekend. There's also an official Anne Gywnne website which has a page on PANHANDLE.

PANHANDLE is available on DVD in the VCI set Darn Good Westerns Volume 1. The set also includes OPERATION HAYLIFT (1950), a rural docudrama with Bill Williams and Ann Rutherford which I liked a great deal. Based on these two films alone, the set is a great value.

Western fans should make it a point to check out PANHANDLE, which can be rented from ClassicFlix.


Blogger barrylane said...

Stampede and Short Grass are both outstanding. In Mrs. Parkington a big film from MGM which I did not care for, Cameron has more than one outstanding moment on screen with Greer Garson. Whatever the film's shortcomings it is based on a good Louis Bromfield novel worth checking out.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for details of Anne Gwynne tribute site.
Enjoyed your review of Panhandled though I'm not a Rod Cameron fan

12:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks much for the feedback on other Cameron films, I'm really looking forward to seeing STAMPEDE and SHORT GRASS, hopefully later in the year.

One of my daughters really likes MRS. PARKINGTON but I haven't seen it yet myself. I'll be watching for Cameron's role.

Glad I could share the Anne Gwynne site, Vienna! This was really a nice movie, hope you can check it out and see if it works for you despite not being a Cameron fan.

Best wishes,

11:12 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Great to see you give attention to both Rod Cameron and
Lesley Selander,Laura;both personal favorites of mine.
STAMPEDE and SHORT GRASS are in the post to me;
cannot wait.
SHORT GRASS is great;have never seen STAMPEDE.
I am glad that Warner Archive are making more and more
of the unheralded Selanders work available.
I understand that they are at some point going to
release ARROW IN THE DUST in widescreen.
Two other great Selander/Rod Cameron Westerns are
heavy in both those films,opposite George Montgomerys
hero.FRONTIER GAL starring Yvonne DeCarlo and Cameron
is due out later this year from Sidonis in France.
Sadly their DVDs have "forced" subtitles;a real pain.
Another good Selander Western already out on DVD is

5:05 AM  

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