July 27, 2008
“Texas Panhandle” is the 7th film made in the year (1945) that they started making Durango Kid films in earnest. I’m guessing the studio figured they were making enough of these films starring the man in the black mask that they might as well nail down an identity for Steve. Until now he’d been a hired hand on a stagecoach, a Sheriff, a Texas Ranger, and a drifter. What they came up with isn’t bad. Too bad it only lasted for one picture.
Film opens with a series of shots of violence towards Wagons — blowing them up, crashing them into gullys, hurtling them over cliffs — and a newspaper headline reading “Federal Gold Missing In West.”
Cut to: the Capital Building in Washington, DC. A door marked “United States Secret Security. James Harrington, Chief Investigator.” Investigator Steve Buckner strides in, calls his boss James “Steve” for some reason, and says, “It’s about time I got my next assignment. I’ve been sitting around this office for so long I’ve got calluses where I never had them before.” But he’s fired! Pending an investigation by the US Department of Justice into his “rumored activities as the notorious character known as the Durango Kid.” He’s stripped of his credentials. “Give ’em to the Department of Justice with the compliments of the Durango Kid. I’m heading West!”
Like I said, a nice, clear backstory. Which they drop 50 minutes later, right after the end credits roll.
We find Steve on a wagon train posing as a lawyer. He sneaks off and slips into Durango disguise to save Cannonball (Dub Taylor) from some outlaws.
“Well, bless my britches, it’s the Durango Kid hisself! Hi Durango! Remember me? I was up in them Black Hills when you caught Buck Monroe’s gang for peddlin’ liquor to the Indians.” This must have happened off-camera, cuz it’s not in any of the films. Durango says, “I never saw you before” so maybe Cannonball just made all that up.
Cannonball’s comic through-line involves a love affair with the local blacksmith lady, Millicent.
Okay, this is where they got the emblematic shot of Durango atop Raider, rearing and doing a half-turn. Disregard my earlier guesses, please.
Plot: some bullshit about a missing will and a complicated scheme involving faked land deeds and forced labor for the band.
Spade Cooley makes his second (and last) appearance in a Durango Kid film. There’s a creepy “comic” moment where the King of Western Swing pulls a gun on Dub and says, “should I put him out of his misery right now or let him suffer?” 16 years later, Spade beat his wife to death over a number of days.
There’s a couple of quick changes, mostly at the hotel. Steve goes in the front and Durango comes out the rear. Or vice-versa.
There’s an unusual bit of fun where a henchman is reporting to the boss in his saloon. “That Durango Kid is strictly dynamite!” KABOOM! They run into the back and Durango has just blown the safe.
Later, the bad guys find Durango’s horse hidden in the barn. In his saddlebags they find a Presidential Citation to Steve Buckner for service as a Secret Service Agent. (Pssst, Steve, you forgot about the Secret part of that job description.) They put two and two together and announce: “Steve Buckner is the Durango Kid.”
When they come looking for him, Steve reveals to Dub, Tex and the rest of the gang that he is Durango. They help him get out of town.
And yet! Once again! The good guys know Steve’s the Durango Kid; the bad guys know Steve’s the Durango Kid; EVERYONE knows Steve’s the Durango Kid. And yet! He continues to dress up in the black get-up and wear the mask. And they ALL call him “Durango.” Are they humoring him? Like you would a crazy person?
In the end, Steve gets a letter. He’s been reinstated. He’s got to be moving on. “The Government just sent me my new assignment.” Sure they did! Right back to the nuthouse, ya psycho!
Carolina Cotton does some nice yodeling.
Charley rides Raider bareback. Does a real nice job.