Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, March 28, 2008


GANGBUSTERS (1942). Directed by Ray Taylor and Noel Smith.

Based on the radio show of the same name, this is one of the very best Universal serials, with a fast-pace, rapid editing, an effective musical score, and plenty of two-fisted action throughout. Ralph Morgan plays Professor Mortis (his I.D. is revealed in the first chapter), who is out for revenge against the city authorities (this is supposed to be New York but looks more like the typical Hollywood back lot). He is the head of the League of Murdered Men, allegedly bringing various gunsels back to life and keeping them alive with pills that enforce their loyalty. Kent Taylor is the stalwart detective Bill Bannister, and Robert Armstrong is his associate Tim Nolan (as usual Armstrong pretty much just plays himself). Irene Hervey is the intrepid girl reporter. There’s some good character actors in supporting roles but William Haade makes the biggest impression as Mike Taboni, a hood who murders Bannister’s kid brother, commits "suicide," and is revivified by Professor Mortis.

Although pretty much a dim bulb, Taboni is smart enough to ask Mortis who brought him, Mortis, another "suicide," back to life. "An intelligent question," says Mortis, "One best left unanswered." Understandably. I believe we never learn who’s sending Mortis all those notes delivered by the newsboy, either. There are some good cliffhangers in this serial, including one in which a car plunges several stories down a shaft, and a bit involving Hervey switching from the running board of one car to another. The pace never flags. An amusing aspect of the serial is that the secret entrance to the gang’s underground HQ is a trapdoor located right in the middle of the subway tracks. Of course, placing the trapdoor off to the side of the tracks would eliminate the danger as well as the ending that you know is coming. It’s interesting that instead of doing brief recaps at the start of each episode, the serial instead inserts brief new sequences that help the audience catch up with what’s going on – a nice touch. This may not quite be in the "classic" league, but it’s certainly a pretty good serial. And from Universal, no less.

Verdict: Good show! ***.

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