Gang War (1958): Breakdown by Kain424
A non-violent man’s pregnant wife is killed, he seeks to avenge the deaths.
Gang War is essentially a spiritual prequel to Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson as a sort of would-be vigilante. After witnessing a mob execution, he unwittingly becomes a target. His wife gets killed and Bronson spends the remainder of the film attempting revenge, but is ultimately stopped either by the police or his own conscience. The themes are familiar and even character attributes the same, but ultimately the message is a different one. Instead of arguing against criminal rights and a limp-wristed justice system, Gang War seems to be about citizen responsibility and the consequences of high crime.
The film opens with a montage of evil criminal activity: a man is shot to death in the street, a car explodes, a storefront is blasted away, and a car does a U-turn. This is the highpoint of the movie’s Action. There are fights and attempted assassinations to follow, but it never quite hits the rush of this introduction. Still, the flick moves quickly, no doubt due to its short running time and smooth editing.
The movie plays as a morality tale, comparing the lives of two people: Bronson, an honest man who earns a modest living and is hoping to start a family; and mobster Maxie Meadows (played in a showstealing performance by John Doucette), a thuggish, immoral asshole who wants to look “cultured.” Unfortunately, most of the scenes dealing with Maxie are so goofy I still don’t know whether or not they’re being played for laughs or are meant to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, all of Bronson’s scenes are shown in such a straight, dry manner they almost appear to be from a different film. This makes Doucette’s moments shine while Bronson almost fades into the background.
While there are some nice story elements (including a rather touching subplot involving Maxie’s attorney), Gang War isn’t really worth the find for anyone other than big fans of Charles Bronson. And even then it’s only the 75 minute haul that won’t drag on your spirits. A little more Action and it might just have worked.
[HOW BAD-ASS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?]
Charles Bronson is Alan Avery
This could easily be Paul Kersey under a different name and occupation (schoolteacher instead of architect). The guy is non-violent, a bit unassuming, and a Korean War veteran. He has a very thoughtful, relaxed vibe about him, responding to his wife’s fears of mob retribution with this:
“I spent two years in Korea, there was a whole army trying to kill me. They didn’t even come close.”
[THE BODY COUNT: 7]
In a film with this title, one might expect immense violence, but alas, Gang War is a product of its times. Though the first few minutes have a few deaths, most of the movie is spent in dialog sessions rather than shootouts. That being said, there are deaths from shooting, stabbing, beating, and strangulation. All are pretty much bloodless, but they work well enough.
[MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING]
Maxie’s punchy servant Chester fights a mob syndicate thug around the living room as his guests play piano and sing. This is made all the more funny by the constant cuts to the singer woman’s face as she awkwardly attempts to be enjoying herself and not notice the brawl occurring in front of the Christmas tree.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
Only a couple times are men shown as actively interested in women. And aside from the fact that Bronson’s wife was pregnant, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that these men have ever had sex with a woman.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
Most of the women here are treated as “scenery” and referred to as “dames.” And of course, being shot in the 50s, the fairer of the sexes is shown to be the dumber of the sexes as well. These women are all with men who use them and treat them like children, but that’s not to say they’re all victims of circumstance. Bronson’s wife is fucking smoking while she’s pregnant! But she comes off completely sympathetic compared to Maxie’s girl Marie, played as a city bimbo by Jennifer Holden.
Marie: “We’ve been together almost two years. You’ve asked me to do a lot of things… but you’ve never asked me to read before!”
Maxie treats this girl like Paris Hilton treats tiny dogs. As an accessory. She’s his trained little pet, and when he doesn’t feel amused he makes her run laps around his pool. I’m not sure whether or not this is supposed to be funny, but I got more than a giggle out of the situation. In addition to the above, there is also this little bit of heartwarming dialog between the two:
Marie: “I learned a lot of things without notebooks.”
Maxie: “Yeah. And if you use any of them with anybody but me I’ll break both your legs.”
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
A big part of the film’s problem lies with the fact that there really are no epic moments. The closest the film gets is when Maxie’s dumb thug Chester goes to beat on Bronson’s wife to send a “message” to him about testifying.
My favorite line actually belongs to Marie. Seeing Maxie’s wealthy life disappear in all but a few minutes, she starts to take off. Maxie at first pleads with her not to go but then turns angry, shouting, “I bought you!”
“Sale’s canceled!” She replies. Excellent line. Too bad he strangles her to death for it.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Dealing with criminals isn’t the job of the police, but rather each and every law-abiding citizen. And no one really likes mobsters, they’re just cartoonish imbeciles anyway.
[THE CHECKLIST: 09 outta 25]
[ ] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[ ] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[ ] Factory/Warehouse
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[ ] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[ ] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[X] Tis The Season
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[ ] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice