Audie Murphy made 23 Westerns for Universal, a long series from Kansas Raiders in 1950 to Gunpoint in 1966. At the end of his prairie career, however, he made five for Columbia, and Arizona Raiders was the third of these.
Preposterous but enjoyable
In Arizona Raiders Audie co-starred with Buster Crabbe, pushing 60 but still ridin’ and shootin’ with the best of them. Buster’s glorious Western career had started back in 1933 when he appeared with Randolph Scott in To The Last Man. Arizona Raiders and the rather odd little film The Bounty Killer, both in ’65, were to be his swansong.
Buster is Captain of Rangers
In Raiders he plays Capt. Andrews, who is invited by the Governor to set up and lead the new Arizona Rangers, to suppress the lawlessness of Quantrell’s raiders who are infesting the Territory. Now, I know what you are thinking. Tim Holt already set up the Rangers in 1948. It says so in RKO's The Arizona Ranger, so it must be true. And anyway, the Arizona Rangers were set up in 1901, not after the Civil War. Furthermore, William Quantrill, also known as Quantrell, died on June 6, 1865 in Louisville, Kentucky of wounds received in an ambush in May.
Fred Graham as Quantrell
William Quantrill (1837 - 65)
Ah yes, but you are confusing Western movies with a history lesson. In Westerns all is permitted, and if you want Quantrell raiding through Arizona after the war and Buster Crabbe setting up the Arizona Rangers to stamp his marauders out, well, why not?
To be fair, there are stories that Quantrill survived, just as Billy the Kid and Jesse James escaped their famous deaths to live and fight another day. The once and future outlaw and all that. Wikipedia tells us (so it must be true) that
In August, 1907, news articles appeared in Canada and the United States claiming that J.E. Duffy, a member of a Michigan cavalry troop that dealt with Quantrill's raiders during the Civil War, had met Quantrill at Quatsino Sound, on northern Vancouver Island while investigating timber rights in the area. Duffy claimed to recognize the man, living under the name of John Sharp, as Quantrill. Duffy said that Sharp admitted he was Quantrill and discussed in detail raids in Kansas and elsewhere. Sharp claimed that he had survived the ambush in Kentucky, though receiving a bayonet and bullet wound, making his way to South America where he lived some years in Chile. He returned to the United States, working as a cattleman in Fort Worth, Texas. He then moved to Oregon, acting as a cowpuncher and drover, before reaching British Columbia in the 1890s, where he worked in logging, trapping and finally as a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino.
Within some weeks after the news stories were published, two men came to British Columbia, travelling to Quatsino from Victoria, leaving Quatsino on a return voyage of a coastal steamer the next day. On that day, Sharp was found severely beaten, dying several hours later without giving information about his attackers. The police were unable to solve the murder.
And to be even fairer, some militia groups were founded in the Civil War which, at a stretch, could be thought of as Rangers. Then Governor Frederick Tritle authorized a company of minutemen or rangers in Tombstone in 1882. So there were some prototypical rangers in Arizona before 1901. But in any case, who worries about mere fact?
Audie is a bold raider with Quantrell (Fred Graham, 221 film and TV Westerns, 1936 to 1973, so respect). Audie suspects another raider of playing a double game and trying to get Quantrell killed. This is Montana (George Keymas, swarthy and pockmarked, classic Western heavy, 196 Western appearances from I Shot Billy the Kid in 1950 to the pilot of The Oregon Trail in 1976, so respect due there too). Indeed, Audie espies Montana deliberately not warning his boss of a sniper. Then Montana, who takes over the leadership after Quantrell dies of his wounds, stops Audie escaping and Audie is given 20 years at hard labor. Ouch.
This is where Buster comes in. He gets Audie and his pal Willie (Ben Cooper) out of the pen and offers them a free pardon if they will rejoin the raiders and betray Montana to the Rangers. Well, that’s a no-brainer, the way Audie must feel about Montana. But he has simpler ideas of revenge in mind: do Montana in then do a bunk for Mexico. Audie’s kid brother Danny (Ray Stricklyn) has joined the Rangers and tries to persuade Audie of the benefits of the straight and narrow but Audie has a one-track mind. Vengeance.
The bad guys take over an Apache village. There’s a plastic cactus. Michael Dante is Montana’s second-in-command. There’s an Audie/Montana shoot-out. Dante now takes over but is very suspicious of Audie and Willie. In fact he murders Willie. Oh yes, there are twists and turns in the plot alright. There’s also a rather irritating narration that tells you what’s happening on the screen.
There’s a girl, of course. She’s the good Martina (Gloria Talbott). But at the end Audie doesn’t get to go off with her. He is rather deflated by the news she gives him that she is going to “be a good nun.” Oh well. So Audie rides off with Capt Buster and joins the Rangers.
Stirring stuff, eh?
Audie aims at the bad guys
It was directed by William Witney. Mr. Witney is famed for having written a biography of Trigger. He directed many serials for Mascot, then Republic and was noted for his action scenes. He was involved in one way or another with no fewer than 273 Westerns, from 1933 to 1982, a noble career, so glory, laud and honor be his.
Like many Audie oaters it was written by the Willinghams, Mary and Willard, who also wrote his Whispering Smith TV series. They worked on this one with Alex Gottlieb, who wrote the Abbot and Costello ‘Western’ Ride ‘em, Cowboy and a 1954 Dana Andrew oater Thee Hours to Kill, and that’s about it. To be brutally frank, the writing of Arizona Raiders is not its strongest point.
That strongest point is probably the look of the movie. It’s in Technicolor and Techniscope and was shot by Jacques R Marquette, who photographed quite a few B and TV Westerns, especially The Chisholms, and who did another Witney/Murphy effort, 40 Guns to Apache Pass, two years later. It was shot in Arizona, round Cortaro and Phoenix and at Old Tucson. It’s a nice looking Western.
Like all Audie Westerns, Arizona Raiders will repay a watch. He was reliably good and a better actor than he gave himself credit for. It’s professionally done, colorful and has loads of action. You could do a lot worse.