WHEN GANGLAND STRIKES
released by Republic Pictures in March 1956
directed by R.G. Springsteen (usually fine, but even he can’t turn a bad script into gold)
released on VHS by Republic Pictures Home Video in the 1990’s
In one of my recent comic book reviews over at BTC, I compared the waning days of Republic Pictures with the waning days of Charlton Comics, so perhaps I should discuss a film from those waning days. I’ve seen some excellent crime dramas released by Republic in the 1955-56 period, and the studio made many fine crime dramas from the 30’s through the 50’s, but very few have ever been legitimately issued….usually only the serials and the westerns and the films starring John Wayne get put out on any video format….so it’s baffling why one of the few that DID get a VHS release from Republic is this disappointing film, and what’s maddening about its release is that the box suggests it’s some kind of late film noir. The video box and the movie posters (seen here) look exciting, but don’t believe it. Here is an online review of the film which I published originally in 2004. The film has not improved any with age:
poorly-written, unsatisfying late-Republic programmer
Republic Pictures was in its waning days in 1956 when this strange, unsatisfying crime drama was made by a crew who had made many excellent later serials for Republic. A poor script with clashing moods, unrealistic dialogue, lines written solely to match later plot points that sound odd when spoken in dramatic situations, a “hero” who is not very sympathetic for most of the movie, continuity errors that are surprising for the slick professionals at Republic pictures (characters called by different names, rough edits that don’t match what just happened, etc.), characters whose reactions to important events are not like anything you’ve ever seen in real life–there are many, many flaws in this film. It could almost be used in a screenwriting class for a “how NOT to write a screenplay” unit. The class could stop the tape every minute or two and point out the flaws. The film LOOKS good as Republic product usually does. The acting is convincing, although even the best actors can’t do much with a poor script. On a positive note,the first five and last five minutes of the film are genuinely exciting. The film starts off like a hard-boiled crime film and ends like an over-the-top courtroom drama, but the middle 75% is a slow-moving, “Andy Hardy”-style smalltown drama. Except for Slim Pickens’ comic relief and Anthony Caruso as the gangster referred to in the title, the pace is slow.Raymond Greenleaf as a smalltown prosecutor begins as an affable, gentle character out of a Capra film, but his chronic inactivity will make him an unsympathetic character to most viewers. He throws an important case with seemingly no remorse, blackmailed about something that for many viewers would not be a major issue. I felt that the character was too lazy to do anything to resolve the situation about which he was blackmailed. I could go on and on about the flaws and inconsistencies in this film. My wife and I spent about an hour discussing a laundry list of problems after the film–more time than we spent discussing David Mamet’s OLEANNA, which we’d seen the week before. Finally, the copy on the back cover of this video is completely deceptive. I can’t believe the person who wrote the notes even watched the enclosed film. It is NOT a noir film in any way. It is NOT an exciting film, except for brief scenes at the beginning and end. As a devoted fan of Republic Pictures product, I found the film an interesting failure, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who is not a serious Republic Pictures collector. There are some fine products from the 1955 and 1956 years at Republic, but this is not one of them, and I wonder why Republic chose to issue this on VHS when 9/10 of their crime dramas from the 50s would be far more worthy of release. Watch a favorite film a second time rather than spend any time watching WHEN GANGLAND STRIKES, a title more interesting than the film.
After forgetting this film for 10+ years, I recently saw the old VHS of this for a dollar at Half-Price Books–spend that dollar on a pack of gum instead. As I stated above, Republic made a lot of excellent crime programmers over a long period. Let’s hope that Olive Films, in their exciting reissue program of Republic’s deep catalog items, will start releasing some of the lesser-known ones and give the films a second life. Republic Pictures was an important studio that provided solid low-budget genre films for 20+ years–they did not just make serials and westerns and John Wayne films, as wonderful as all those are. Let’s forget that they made this.