It’s 1945.  It’s been four years since Buster Crabbe and Al “Fuzzy” St. John first appeared as a team in “Billy The Kid’s Round-up”.  The final card in the opening credits of “Stagecoach Outlaws” shows the pair sitting on a corral fence above the words “Our Old Pals.”

It’s also been nine years since Crabbe appeared in “Arizona Raiders”. Has he matured as a cowboy star?

Well, he’s less flip. He’s sturdier.  He’s still super strong and he’s still happily reaching into his actor’s toolbox for the arched eyebrow.  He also looks puzzled a lot.  This involves a gaping mouth.

The thing that jumped out at me about Crabbe in both of these films is his comedy.  Most cowboy leads participate in the humor of the films as a spectator or bemused and detached participant.  Charles Starrett will shake his head at Smiley’s antics.  He’ll dismiss some comic situation with a straight-faced barb that dissolves to a hearty laugh.  This is true of most cowboy leads, especially the non-musical ones.

Not so, Buster Crabbe.  He readily takes part.  He is forever willing to use his impressive physicality for comic effect.  It’s a like-able quality, but at times it seems like the only reason the comedy is happening is that Buster doesn’t know what else to do other than just jump in and follow his sidekick’s lead.  And heroes aren’t supposed to follow their sidekicks!  It doesn’t work that way.

Other interest to Starrett Completists: this film was written by Fred Myton who wrote for the silents and penned three pre-Durango Starrett vehicles, “Two-Fisted Rangers,” “Pinto Kid” and “Texas Stagecoach.” Director Sam Newfield also helmed the under-rated early Starrett starrer, “Undercover Men.” He also directed the unfortunate “Terror of Tiny Town.”

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In 1933, Buster Crabbe and Charles Starrett appeared as sweater-wearing college boys in “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”.  Three years later, they’d be riding the range in films like “Arizona Raiders.”

Buster (here billed as Larry) Crabbe is a rambling cowboy.  We meet him with a rope around his neck.  He escapes and rides his horse off a cliff and into a river.  He’s barely dried off when he happens upon another man in the EXACT same situation.  It’s Raymond Hatton about to swing from a tree.  Crabbe rescues the stranger with a rifle-shaped stick and a lot of bravado.  This ten minute sequence turns out to just be a way to hook these characters up.

Hatton ends up in jail and meets a young dude with love troubles.  When Crabbe breaks them out, Hatton vows to help the kid.  Believe it or not, this drives the entire action of the film.  Of course, there are bad guys and complicated plots to steal a ranch from the kid’s sweetheart, but this romance is the reason Hatton and Crabbe stick around through-out the film.

Interestingly, Hatton’s character is pretty tough and complex for a comic sidekick.  Also, of interest, the first fight scene is at :45 of :57.

This is my first Buster Crabbe film: he’s cocky; he uses words like “chapeau” and feels the need to translate; is a corny ladies man – example: he saves a team of horses from a gnarled line then turns to the female rider with “now, I’ll save you“;  he takes juvenile delight from tossing firecrackers at a herd of cattle; cuts up with lots of wisecracks; nearly half of what he says is sarcasm; a lot is made of his strength — he carries two saddles across a desert in one scene; he breaks a horse which is one of most real-west shows of machismo I’ve seen in the many B-movies I’ve watched.

He seems very young and green.

1936 was a big year for Buster Crabbe — he also appeared as Flash Gordon for the first time.  I’m going to have to check back in with his career in a few years and see if he’s matured at all.