Sunday, February 21, 2010

On DVD: Gang Busters (1952)

Most of you may be more familiar with Gang Busters as a radio show instead of the television incarnation that aired in 1952. Alpha Video, the rights holder to the DVD releases of the series, claims Gang Busters is "an early predecessor" to shows like Fox's America's Most Wanted, but that claim is laughable because Gang Busters has more in common with other procedural crime dramas, from its best-known contemporary, Dragnet, to today's shows like Law & Order and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Volume 1 begins with the case of little-known gangster Homer Van Meter, who gained notoriety from being associated with the legendary John Dillinger. All 4 cases on the disc are taken from authentic police & FBI files across the country, contrary to Dragnet, which confined itself to its home base of Los Angeles, and rarely ventured outside its territory. Like Dragnet, however, Gang Busters offers a disclaimer at the end of the show acknowledging that the names of some of the characters were changed "to protect the innocent". The use of public all points bulletins (APB's) to report on fugitives at large at the time of production would later be used, if my memory serves me well enough, on The F. B. I. in the 60's & 70's.

Dillinger's not the only known name that has been used on Gang Busters. I have one episode on a Radio Spirits TV/radio compilation I acquired a few years ago that told the story of infamous bank robber Willie Sutton, for example. Would Gang Busters be revived today? In a way, it has, with the success of CSI and the Law & Order family of shows over the last two decades. Law producer Dick Wolf tried reviving Dragnet as a 1 hour drama 7 years ago, but it didn't work out as well as it should have, which should answer the question about a Gang Busters revival more clearly, although it wouldn't hurt to try, preferably on cable.

The quality of the video is very good, as the episodes are well preserved 55 years later. Too bad it isn't readily available on cable right now, though it should be.

Grade: A-.

Edit: 4/11/14: Here's the episode, "The Scissors Gang":

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