Having seen the success of Republic Pictures 1936 film The Three Mesquiteers and it’s numerous sequels, low grade studio Monogram were keen to come up with their own trio – enter The Range Busters, which while never breaking the bank budget wise were always well played and a hit with western fans.
Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune had played Tucson Smith and Lullaby Johnson respectively in the Mesquiteers films alongside John Wayne but when they fell out of contract at Republic, Monogram very quickly snapped them up. Corrigan became “Crash” and Terhune became “Alibi”. The role of third member of the trio was given to John “Dusty” King.
The Range Busters, the first of what would become the series, was a mystery thriller about a haunted ranch and the format was quickly set with Crash and Dusty haggling over the love interest and Alibi providing comic relief. Alibi was also something of a bird impressionist and talented ventriloquist – his dummy Elmer would also become a regular feature of the movies.
The first movie had a reasonable budget (by Monogram standards anyway) but from the second movie onward it was a distinct case of spend as little as possible – a state of affairs which led, in 1942, to Ray Corrigan calling it quits on the series. (Funnily enough it was his ranch that was used for much of the filming on the series and continued to be used extensively even after he quit.)
In came former stuntman Dave Sharpe who despite initial misgivings from fans and exhibitors alike, slotted into the team rather well. It also meant the films upped their action quotient too.
1942’s Texas to Bataan was a strange one – it saw the Range Busters not in the old west but in the Philippines delivering horses for the army! This wasn’t the first time the series had played with it’s own time frame – Tumbledown Ranch in Arizona was set in present day (1941) Arizona with the boys playing their own sons before flashbacks to the 1980’s.
By 1943 the second world war was playing havoc with the series – both John King and David Sharpe were called up. This didn’t hamper the series too much in the end as Ray Corrigan returned along with newcomer Dennis Moore for four more stories. One of these, Cowboy Commandos, again was set during world war II with the trio on the trail of German agents.
After the Range Busters series finished Ray Corrigan all but retired from film making but did continue to hire out his ranch and also turned it into one of America’s best known tourist attractions (he eventually sold it to Bob Hope in the 1960’s.) He died in 1976. After the end of WWII John King focused less on movies and instead went into business, owning a garage and a restaurant. Max Terhune and his dummy Elmer continued in showbusiness and Terhune died in 1973 at the age of 82. David Sharpe returned to stunt work and died in 1980 whilst Dennis Moore carried on in numerous character parts but died aged just 56 in 1964.
Full list of Range Buster movies…
1940: The Range Busters; Trailing Double Trouble; West of the Pinto Basin
1941: Trail of the Silver Spurs; The Kids Last Ride; Tumbledown Ranch in Arizona; Wranglers Roost; Fugitive Valley; Saddle Mountain Roundup; Tonto Basin Outlaw; Underground Rustlers
1942: Thunder River Feud; Rock River Renegades; Boot Hill Bandits; Texas Trouble Shooters; Arizona Stagecoach; Texas to Bataan; Trail Riders
1943: Two Fisted Justice; Haunted Ranch; Land of Hunted Men; Cowboy Commandos; Black Market Rustlers; Bullets and Saddles