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GANG BUSTERS (director: Bill Karn; screenwriter: Phillips Lord; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: William Faris; music: Richard D. Aurandt; cast: Myron Healey (John Omar Pinson), Don Harvey (Det. Lt. Walsh), Sam Edwards (Wayne Long), Frank Richards (Slug Bennett), Frank Gerstle (Det. Fuller), Charles Victor (Police Officer Rondeau), Bob Carson (Dr. Hall); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Wm. H. Clothier/Wm. J. Faris; Visual Drama Inc.; 1954)
“This cheapie crime thriller is based on the radio show of the same name and offers no reason why one should waste their time watching something this dull and clichéd.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This cheapie crime thriller is based on the radio show of the same name and offers no reason why one should waste their time watching something this dull and clichéd. It had nothing going for it but a bad script and acting, and some cheesy production values. The film is presented in a documentary-style with a hushed narration telling about poor jail conditions. The story focuses on Detective Lt. Walsh (Harvey) tracking down a criminal who has a history of repeated jailbreaks. Gang Busters was a standard prison film of its time, but when viewed now is outdated. The Oregon prison shown bares little resemblance to today’s.

John Omar Pinson (Healey) is a vicious criminal from the Midwest and is tagged as Public Enemy No 4. While on the run he’s stopped by a Portland, Oregon cop in a parked stolen car, and when he shoots the cop he’s soon arrested and sentenced to a life term. Pinson quickly becomes the prison leader, and carefully plans his escape. He has a destructive influence on the other convicts, which include follower Slug Bennett and a young punk who hero worships him and wants to join his gang so he can learn how to commit greater crimes, Wayne Long.

The action revolves around Pinson, who escapes the first time by hiding in a sack on a laundry truck. But he’s captured after he kills a beat cop who questions him about a bulky package he’s carrying, which he claims is a fishing rod but is a Tommy gun. Pinson is placed in solitary confinement for a year, but Long arranges for his escape and is disappointed when Pinson takes Bennett with him and leaves him behind.

Bennett has tremendous pain in his jaw, so they break into a pharmacy and Pinson plies him with some pain-killing drugs. They then break into a sporting goods store next door to steal some guns, but the police arrive and there’s a shootout. Both convicts escape, but they’re riddled with bullets. Pinson gets Bennett to dig a hole and buries him, figuring his pal is dead. The panicky Bennett is unable to make decisions for himself, and when the pain to his jaw returns he sees a doctor. The doctor tells him that he has a case of terminal cancer, which precipitates an attempt by Bennett to commit suicide. When someone hears the gun blast, they call the police and when he’s at the hospital they find six other slugs in him. The detectives then get Bennett to talk and they setup a plan to trap Pinson by releasing Long and putting a tail on him.

Director Martin Scorsese said he admired Gang Busters and that the film inspired some scenes he used in Taxi Driver. I’m not calling Scorsese a liar, but no scene in that movie resembled any I saw in Gang Busters.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”