Gang Busters (1942)

Article #738 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2003
Posting Date: 8-20-2003
Directed by Ray Taylor and Noel Smith
Featuring Kent Taylor, Irene Harvey, Ralph Morgan

Police try to break a ring of gangsters known as The League of Murdered Men.

I have to confess to not being a particular fan of action movies; mere action in and of itself doesn’t really interest me. For the action sequences to catch my interest, there have to be other conditions that serve as an incentive; either the characters need to have really grabbed my attention, or the action choreography has to have been particularly well-done, or the fights are peppered with a good sense of realism, or the movie has to have really built up the right amount of suspense, etc. All too often, I see nothing but bland, predictable characters throwing their fists at each other, and this simply leaves me cold, especially when the good guys look just like the bad guys. This is perhaps why I’ve never been fond of action-oriented serials (in contrast to adventure-oriented ones); watching fisticuffs break out every five minutes leaves me tired rather than thrilled, no matter how many people they throw into them. GANG BUSTERS is an action serial, but I’m thrilled to say that I find it a refreshing change of pace from the others I’ve seen.

Part of it is a strong sense of grittiness that pervades the story; everybody is playing it serious, and I like that. The characters are more interesting than you usually find, particularly Ralph Morgan’s villain, Dr. Mortis, who shows from time to time a greater range of emotion than most villains in this type of thing. The episodes never skimp on the suspense, and there’s just a lot of details I really like, from the villains’ wonderful hideout (underneath a manhole found between the tracks of a subway train, so that even the act of getting into the hideout is fairly harrowing) to the creative way each episode segues into its cliffhanger; instead of narration explaining the last episodes, various characters in the middle of the action discuss the events that lead up to the cliffhanger, which is then recreated. Add to this the emphasis on actual police detection methods (fingerprints, chemical analysis, etc.), and a plotline that throws out the usual scientist-with-a-new-invention-gets-kidnapped-by-gangsters storyline with a simple revenge-driven motive coupled with the science fictional concept of gangsters being revived from death, and you have a novel story indeed. I’ve seen several people put this serial near the tops of their lists of favorite serials. It’s definitely at the top of my list so far.


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