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GANG WAR (director: Leo C. Popkin; screenwriters: from a story by Walter Cooper/Lewis Sherman; cinematographer: Marcel A. Picard; editor: Michael Luciano; cast: Ralph Cooper (Bob ‘Killer’ Meade), Gladys Snyder (Mazie ‘Sugar’ Walford), Reggie Fenderson (Danny, Meade’s chief henchman), Lawrence Criner (Lew Baron), Monte Hawley (Bill, Baron’s henchman), Jesse Brooks (Lt. Holmes), Harold Garrison (Slicum, Meade’s publicity man), Maceo Sheffieldm (Bull Brown), Johnny Thomas (Phil); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clifford Sanforth; Image Entertainment; 1940)
“A “race movie” of that era that plays out as one big cliché.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

White director Leo C. Popkin (“The Well”/”One Dark Night”/”Reform School’) helms this creaky all-Negro crime drama, a “race movie” of that era that plays out as one big cliché and with leaden acting. The low-budget conventional genre gangster flick follows in the tradition of The Public Enemy (1931) or Scarface (1932), Depression-era hits. It’s about rival Harlem gangs fighting over who controls the turf for the jukebox business. It’s based on a story by Walter Cooper and written by Lewis Sherman.

It opens with Bull Brown’s gang, led by Bob “Killer” Meade (Ralph Cooper), brawling in a Harlem diner with the members of Lew Baron’s (Lawrence Criner) gang. When one of Meade’s men gets killed, the ambitious gangster rubs out Bull for being a weak leader and takes over the gang. Meade’s loyal driver is Phil and his right hand man is Danny, who proceed on a killing spree to take over from his rival. Meade gets arrested to only go free when a jury finds him not guilty, as witnesses were intimidated. In court Meade meets the sweet club singer Mazie ‘Sugar’ Walford (Gladys Snyder), who gives us a few songs. Meade vows to make Mazie break her engagement from her honest rich boyfriend. Lt. Holmes (Jesse Brooks), someone Meade trusts and knew when he was a beat cop and befriended the neighborhood youth, comes to his office to give him a friendly warning to not become drunk with power. Of course, Meade doesn’t heed the warning and goes on to build an empire through more bloodshed. After cutting deeply into Baron’s turf, the ongoing gang war between the rivals, resulting in many deaths on each side, reaches a climax when Meade rubs out Baron. The disappointed Mazie, who finally gave up her good guy boyfriend to be with the thug she loves in the hope she can reform him, informs Holmes that her man has gone to kill Baron hoping he can stop Meade before it’s too late. It ends with Meade getting gunned down by the cops on a Harlem tenement roof and tumbling down to the ground, where Holmes tells Mazie “that crime doesn’t pay.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”