USA / 1965
Director: William Witney
Writer: Alex Gottlieb, Mary Willingham
Cast: Audie Murphy, Michael Dante, Ben Cooper, Buster Crabbe, Gloria Talbott, Ray Stricklyn, George Keymas
Buster Crabbe exchanges his swimming trunks for a badge and braces to star alongside real-life war hero Audie Murphy in this slap-bang western by High Chaparral director William Witney.
Superstar and superhero Murphy, the most decorated GI of the Second World War according to Life magazine, who gave him a front cover in 1945, is Clint Stuart, a confederate soldier who joins a guerrilla gang after the American Civil War alongside buddy Willie Martin (Ben Cooper). But the two are captured by army captain Tom Andrews (Crabbe) and given 20 years hard labour.
Things change, however, when Andrews is made head of the new Arizona Rangers and needs to track down Clint’s former gang members, now riding as dangerous renegades and terrorising Arizona. Andrews needs the help of Clint and Willie, so he organises their escape from prison and the promise of a full pardon if they can help bring the guerrillas to justice.
Clint and Willie are happy to oblige, especially as Clint can exact revenge on old enemy Montana (George Keymas), who is now leading Clint’s former renegade gang. Posing as returning gang members, the two infiltrate their former posse, which has now kidnapped Martina (Gloria Talbott), an Indian Chief’s daughter from a peaceful settlement. With the help of the Indian Chief, Clint rounds up the renegades, killing old enemy Montana, but not before the gang has murdered pal Willie.
Job done, Clint at first heads for the border, his freedom ensured, but changes his mind to return and continue his new work as a law-abiding Arizona Ranger.
Murphy and Crabbe are especially convincing and the “spirited direction” (Variety) keeps the pace at full throttle in what is, essentially, an entertaining shoot ’em up. It’s also good to see the Indians portrayed alongside the good guys.
Crabbe was also a real life super hero, having won a gold medal in the 1932 Olympic 400-metre swimming championships. He was rejected by MGM for the role of Tarzan but went on to star as Flash Gordon in three memorable serials.