Gang Busters
Directed byNoel M. Smith
Ray Taylor
Jacques Jaccard (asst.)
Written byMorgan Cox
Phillips Lord
Al Martin
Victor McLeod
George H. Plympton
Produced byFord Beebe
StarringKent Taylor
Irene Hervey
Ralph Morgan
Robert Armstrong
CinematographyJohn W. Boyle
William A. Sickner
Edited byIrving Birnbaum
Paul Landres
Charles Maynard
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • 1942 (1942)
Running time
13 chapters (251 minutes)
CountryUnited States

Gang Busters is a 1942 Universal movie serial based on the radio series Gang Busters.


The city is terrorized by a crime wave masterminded by the elusive, soft-spoken Professor Mortis (Ralph Morgan) from his base in a forgotten cavern beneath the rails of the city's subway line. He declares over the radio that The League of Murdered Men will exact revenge upon the city officials. Mortis's gang members were officially pronounced dead in prison but revived by medical genius Mortis,[1] who recruited them to do his bidding.

Police detective Bill Bannister (Kent Taylor) is visited by his brother, a reformed criminal who will inform on Mortis. Mortis's men kill the informant before he talks, and detective Bannister vows to get Mortis. Bannister, together with his partner Tim Nolan (Robert Armstrong), and police chief Martin O'Brien (Joseph Crehan) use the latest police methods to track down Mortis. Following the story are newspaper reporter Vicki Logan (Irene Hervey) and her photographer Happy Haskins (Richard Davies).






Gang Busters is one of Universal's most elaborate serials, with many chase and thrill scenes expertly staged in outdoor locations. The directors were Ray Taylor, veteran director responsible for many hit serials, and Noel M. Smith, former silent-screen director who specialized in fast action (Smith directed many of Larry Semon's stunt-filled comedies of the 1920s). Some of the footage in Gang Busters was so good that Universal often reused it in its later cliffhangers.

Universal had been making adventure serials since the 1910s, and achieved major success with its Flash Gordon serials of the late 1930s. By the early 1940s serials were usually shown to juvenile audiences at weekend matinees. Universal intended Gang Busters for adult audiences and possible weeknight showings, and staged the action as a straight crime drama. The studio introduced a new "Streamlined Serials" format to distinguish it from its previous chapter plays. Instead of beginning each chapter with a printed synopsis of the storyline, the new format had the action in each chapter starting immediately. The story characters were shown discussing the latest developments and recapping the story themselves.

As a publicity gimmick, Universal hired its "serial queen" of the 1910s, former action star Grace Cunard, to work in Gang Busters. She appears only in the first chapter, as the landlady of a boarding house, but she received prominent billing in the promotional posters and advertising.

Critical reception

Gang Busters was very successful in its original release, and was re-released in 1949 by Film Classics, Inc.

Authors Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut described Gang Busters as a "well made and interesting serial.",[1] and William C. Cline considered the serial one of Universal's best[2] and that Professor Mortis is one of the best characters ever created for a serial.[3]

Chapter titles

  1. The League of Murdered Men
  2. The Death Plunge
  3. Murder Blockade
  4. Hangman's Noose
  5. Man Undercover
  6. Under Crumbling Walls
  7. The Water Trap
  8. Murder by Proxy
  9. Gang Bait
  10. Mob Vengeance
  11. Wanted at Headquarters
  12. The Long Chance
  13. Law and Order


See also


  1. ^ a b Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "8. The Detectives "Gangbusters!"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
  2. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "5. A Cheer for the Champions (The Heroes and Heroines)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 89. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  3. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "7. Masters of Menace (The Villains)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 108. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  4. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 232. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
Preceded byDon Winslow of the Navy (1942) Universal Serial Gang Busters (1942) Succeeded byJunior G-Men of the Air (1942)