Jerry Blake (Ronald Lacey) and his gang plan to muscle in on the territory of Frank Romano (Ray Brooks). Romano runs a protection racket, collecting tributes from local shopkeepers, although his wife Lollo (Jane Merrow) wonders if it’s really worth the trouble. As she tells him, after he’s split the proceeds amongst the members of his gang there’s hardly anything left.
Lollo has something much more ambitious in mind. Henry Waldo (Frederick Bartman) is a middle-aged bank worker who’s crazy for her and doesn’t know that she’s married. He’s responsible for the transportation and destruction of surplus bank notes and she finds it very easy to persuade him to tell her when and where the next delivery will be. So Frank and Jerry team up – with the prize being some four hundred thousand pounds …..
Gang War is such a wonderful time capsule of the period that I find it impossible to watch without a big grin on my face. The scene is set right from the start – as we see Jerry and two of his compatriots swagger down the street. As they walk along the pavement they knock into innocent passers by and this action (together with the brassy incidental music) immediately brings to mind the later Monty Python sketch Hells Grannies. Was the Python sketch directly influenced by this episode? I don’t know for sure, but it seems likely.
Roland Lacey had a good career (sadly curtailed by his early death) playing misfits and Jerry – who sports a wicked looking scar – is another notable addition to this hall of fame. Jerry begins his reign of terror by wrecking the shop of an inoffensive Italian barber (who’s played in such a “whatsa matter you?” way as to be very unbelievable) and later moves up a gear by knifing Sammy, one of Frank’s key men.
Frank, like Jerry, has a club as his base of operations. This means there’s opportunities for oh-so mid sixties incidental library tracks to be played on the jukebox, which ramps up the atmosphere as both men call their gangs together for periodic meetings. One of Frank’s gang is Weasel (played by Louis Mansi). Mansi, later to be a regular in Allo Allo, is very recognisable (one of the joys of this era of television is that so many faces, even the bit-part actors, are instantly familiar).
Ray Brooks was something of a sixties icon and he’s another major plus point in the episode’s favour. Frank starts off as the man in charge, but it doesn’t take long before Lollo makes him realise just how small and petty his ambitions are. As Frank lounges around their flat in a rather natty dressing gown he slowly begins to see the possibilities of Lollo’s manipulation of Henry – although he doesn’t like the thought of his wife making eyes at another man.
Alas, Henry is a bit of a wimp, and indeed the move away from the gang war to focus on the robbery is something of a misstep, although Frank and Jerry do end up settling their differences in a very permanent way (via a lovely piece of noirish night-time filming).
On-screen violence is kept to a minimum. Frank whacks one of his men in a face with a billiard ball and there’s the knifing, but apart from that it’s a fairly bloodless gang war (at least until the climatic shoot out). The stabbing of Sammy (Keith Bell) is a nicely crafted moment though – the camera is placed low on the pavement which then creates an interesting angle after he slumps to the ground.
A generous helping of location filming helps to keep this one clicking along at a very decent pace. Incredibly enjoyable.