Gary Farrell (Buster Crabbe) is a widowed truck driver who wants his son to have a better life than his old man. Good luck pulling that off on a salary of $45 a week. Gary enters a boxing tournament, just hoping to win enough money to pay for his son to go to military school. But, under the tutelage of veteran trainer Pop Turner (Milton Kibbee), Gary becomes a real contender. He also becomes a first class heel, turning his back on his old, honest lifestyle and getting involved with fast-living socialite, Rita London (Julie Gibson). Can Gary’s friends and newspaper reporter Linda Martin (Arline Judge) get Gary to see the error of his ways?
The Contender, which is in the public domain and can be viewed at the Internet archive, is a typical poverty row production, with all the expected boxing clichés. Gary’s initial rise is just as predictable as his downfall and eventual redemption. For fans of Buster Crabbe, though, it is a chance to see Crabbe playing someone other than Tarzan, Flash Gordon, or Buck Rogers. (Crabbe was the only actor to play all three of these roles over the course of his long career. He also appeared as Billy the Kid in several westerns.) Though he was a swimmer and not a boxer, Crabbe’s natural athleticism made him a good pick for the role of Gary. Julie Gibson is sexy and fun as the bad girl and be sure to keep an eye out for Glenn Strange, who plays Gary’s best friend. Just as Crabbe was forever typecast as Flash Gordon, Strange will always be remembered for replacing Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster.