Review: Gang War

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Gang War is a little known film from 1958 starring a soon to be big star, Charles Bronson. This film is one of 4 films Bronson would star in, in 1958. The one that has grew to cult status is Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly. The other 3 have not had as much success over the years.

This film is directed by Gene Fowler Jr. and is based on a book by Ovid Demaris.  This is a short B-movie of only 75 minutes. I am kind of surprised this hasn’t found a cult following itself. Not only for having an early performance from a major star like Bronson, but for it’s fun performances from the rest of the cast.

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Bronson plays a school teacher that is out late one night, getting medicine for his pregnant wife, when he witnesses a man murdered by two thugs. He soon is recruited by the police as a star witness against the two thugs. The thugs work for a major mafia boss, and the police figure they can get the two thugs to snitch on their boss, rather then go to prison for murder. The police promise to keep our hero’s identity secret, but a cop on the mob boss’s payroll tells the papers and the mob our hero’s identity.

The boss sends his ex-pro boxer, bodyguard to scare Bronson’s wife, but he scares her a little to much and kills her. Bronson is out for revenge, but will the mob boss’s other enemies beat him to it?

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Bronson has a good performance in this film, playing it straight and a little subdued. The rest of the cast seemed to know they are in a cheap B-movie film noir and camp it up and go just enough over the top to not be annoying and still be entertaining.

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John Doucette plays our mob boss and he steals the show. With an odd fetish or two and a cadence with his dialog that is fun to listen to. Telling his girlfriend to read a book while he talks about how the Chicago mafia screwed up at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is priceless.

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Jennifer Holden a year after appearing with Elvis Presley in Jail House Rock, plays our mob boss’s girlfriend. She is the classic all looks and no brains bimbo, or is she? With lines like “Minks don’t look good with bullet holes!” and “Dead men got no dough!” shows she may have more brains then one would think in the end. Holden only appeared in three films, Jail House Rock, then this one and a small role in the western Buchanan Rides Alone(never seen it). I’m not sure what happened after 1958 and her film career, but I enjoyed her campy fun performance in this film.

Larry Gelbman plays the punch drunk ex-boxer Chester. He does a great job of playing the man that lives a breaths for his boss. He’s portrayal of a brain damaged thug is great fun!

Are you a die hard Charles Bronson fan? Are you looking for an entertaining and short B-movie film noir with a decent story and fun performances? This is the movie for you.

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Review: Crime Wave

Crime Wave is a classic film noir from 1954 staring Sterling Hayden as a police detective this time instead of the criminal. This film is Directed by André De Toth who made this film under budget and in only 13 days!  The studio scheduled this for a 35 day shot and De Toth said he could do it in 15, he beat that.  The studio wanted Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, but De Toth said he could do this faster and come in under budget if he got to pick the stars.  De Toth wanted Hayden and this is how he got him.

For me Gene Nelson is the center of the story and this was his first dramatic role.  He was more known as a dancer and appeared in a number of musicals.  Phyllis Kirk plays Nelson’s wife and pretty much is just a pretty face in this.  Nelson of course is trying to keep her safe, but Kirk really is hard to read in this role as the sacred housewife.  Timothy Carey has a small uncredited role, but it stood out to me.  The biggest small role goes to Charles Buchinsky who plays one of the thugs that recently escaped prison.  Buchinsky is a scary tough guy with a hard edge to him, he later changed his name to something you may recognize,  Charles Bronson.

Our story starts out with three escaped convicts robbing a gas station.  They get away but one is shot and not doing to well.  Hayden is the lead detective on the case and one of his leads is an old prison cellmate who is trying to get his life on the straight and narrow(played by Nelson).  He is married now and has a good job, but Hayden is suspicious.  Soon the shot escapee shows up at Nelson’s apartment with a veterinarian that is known to work on the occasional injured criminal.  The doctor is too late and the man dies in Nelson’s apartment.    Soon Hayden shows up at the apartment and all hell breaks loose.

This is a very good movie all film noir fans will love.  It is also a great film for Hayden fans as well as Bronson fans who would like to see some of his early work.

Favorite Tidbit:  This movie was an inspiration for part of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and part of the screenplay is dedicated to director André De Toth.