Cast & Crew
In 1927, Katherine Clark "Ma" Barker castigates her son Herman for playing the violin at church, stating that it made him look like a "sissy." Although her husband George tries to restrain Ma from corrupting the sensitive Herman and their other sons, Lloyd, Doc and Fred, Ma insists that her boys will not grow up in abject poverty, as she did. To that end, she mercilessly trains them to commit robberies, instructing them that they must never get caught. One night, they rob a carnival, but as they are fleeing, Herman is caught by the carney and brought to the sheriff. Despite the fact that Ma feigns complete innocence, the sheriff suspects her and the boys of being responsible for many recent robberies, and warns that he will be watching them. Back at home, Ma cuffs Herman. The next morning, George is horrified to see Herman's arrest reported in the newspaper, but when he tries to force Ma to renounce her ways, she throws him out. Soon after, the sheriff runs them out of town, and over the next years, Ma takes to the road with her growing boys, who commit small crimes to support themselves. In 1933, Fred is in jail, but the other boys execute their largest robbery yet, holding up a bank truck. During the job, Herman is instructed to kill a guard, and when he cannot, Ma runs over the guard with the car, pretending to be a little old lady whose car has gone out of control. They evade the police and return to their house where Ma's new husband, the alcoholic Arthur Dunlop, lives. With the stolen money, Ma buys Fred's release from jail, and with him he brings his cellmate, the sadistic killer Alvin Karpis. Ma throws Fred a coming home party, attended by her friends, the infamous criminals Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Ma charges Kelly and his girl friend Lou $50,000 to plan the kidnapping of a man, despite their refusal to believe her advice that the man is penniless. Meanwhile, Herman and Doc are performing a robbery and, when it goes wrong, must flee the police. After their car crashes and Herman tells Doc to run, then, replaying his mother's warning never to get caught, shoots himself. At the funeral, Ma blames Herman's death on George's parenting. Afterward, she learns that it was Art, in a drunken rant, who revealed information about the robbery, thus endangering Herman and Doc. In revenge, she, the boys and Al force the terrified Art to play Russian roulette until he shoots himself. Over the next months, Ma continues to plan crimes for the other gangsters for a fee, moving her family often to avoid being caught by the FBI, who are trailing her. In St. Paul, she hatches a scheme to kidnap bank president Khortney for a $200,000 ransom. Pretending to be the nurse at his daughter's school, Ma calls Khortney and asks him to come to the school, where the boys abduct him. They bring him to a farm, where Kelly and Lou soon show up with two gun-toting goons, stating that they are going to "steal" Khortney and collect the ransom themselves. Unknown to them, however, Ma has invited Dillinger and Nelson, and together with her sons, they overpower Kelly's gang. After collecting the ransom, they return Khortney home unharmed, and he informs federal agents Avery and Baxter that he was driven eight hours over rainy roads to a farm. With this information, the agents are able to pinpoint the Barkers' location. To escape, Ma takes Fred, whose face has been identified, to alcoholic gangland doctor Guelffe for plastic surgery. Although Guelffe pleads that he is unable to perform such a delicate operation, Ma forces him to comply, and he begins the painful process of shaving off Fred's fingerprints. Fred convalesces for days, but when Ma removes his face bandages, she is infuriated to find him unchanged. In revenge, the boys burn the doctor alive. Later, Kelly attempts to swindle Ma by hiring Doc, at a lower fee, to plan his next job. To ensure Doc's participation, Lou seduces him, but before they can finish the job, Doc is arrested by Avery and Baxter. The agents use a letter from Fred to determine that Fred and Ma are now living in Florida. There, a weary Fred has just convinced Ma to retire when the agents, with two local policemen, arrive. Against Fred's wishes, Ma insists on shooting their way out, and both are killed, along with the two policemen. Within years, all of the Barkers have been killed, and Karpis and Kelly are in jail.
William Lon Karn
Ama Lou Barnes
William J. Faris
Phil G. Giriodi
F. Paul Hall
Paul E. Mullen
Mack V. Wright
Ma Barker's Killer Brood/Gangbusters - Public Enemy Double Feature on DVD
Ma Barker's Killer Broodstars Lurene Tuttle, who also played Eliza Chambers in Psycho. Both of these films were released the same year and both are shocking, but Tuttle takes center stage in Ma Barker's Killer Brood, and she plays it to the hilt with the intensity of a drill sergeant gone bad. She's a domineering woman who cows her husband into submission and slaps her children around if they get caught by authorities. She starts off her kids on a life of crime at an early age when she encourages them to steal money from the collection plate at church, and then orchestrates bigger jobs until, cut to several years in the future when she and her four grown kids have long since been run out of town, the stakes include murder and fraternizing with the likes of Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, and "Johnny" Dillinger. The Ma Barker herein doesn't think twice about running people over (repeatedly) with a car or going out in a blaze of gunfire, and the sight of an older woman doing these things veers giddily between exploitation fare and good camp fun. For the record (or Court TV's Crime Library record, at least): "An FBI internal memo summarizing the history of the Barker-Karpis gang up to early 1936, contains the statement, `Kate Barker was killed for resisting arrest." This should be amended to `killed while her son was resisting arrest." Harvey Bailey, a veteran bank robber that sometimes worked with the Barker-Karpis group, said of the issue, `the old woman couldn't even organize breakfast.¿ (Richard Kudis, Alvin Karpis: Pursuit of the Last Public Enemy.)
Gangbusters stars Myron Healey in the lead as John Pinson, a dapper and deadly thug who is as quick on the sweet talk as he is on the trigger. With his strong chin and calm eyes that always seem to glimmer with assurance, Healey is a convincing charmer. With over 300 appearances on tv and film, he's the kind of actor you'll's as a heavy in a western movie or a tv walk-on role from anything between The Lone Ranger to The Incredible Hulk. You can also spot Healey briefly in Ma Barker¿s Killer Brood as an uncredited Sioux Fall bank robber. In Gangbusters Healey plays a bank robber whose crimes, we find out, "would take a half-hour to recite." If this particular 75-minute outing by Karn doesn't feel like a feature film consider its precursors: "Gang Busters became a short-lived television series in 1952 on NBC that alternated with Jack Webb's Dragnet. Episodes from the series dealing with Oregon prison escapee and identified as Public Enemy Number Four John Omar Pinson were strung together to form a theatrical feature" (excerpt from Martin Grams, Jr, from The G-Men Take to the Air Waves).
Both Ma Barker's Killer Brood and Gangbusters are presented in crisp, remastered, b&w with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Also on the disk is a fun "Hideout" collection of "Crime Busting Trailers" for Jacktown, Miami Expose, Slaughter on 10TH Avenue, Portland Expose ("The shame of 'B' girls. The brutal violence of twisted men." "When law and order give way to vice and dice."), and Baby Face Nelson (starring Mickey Rooney). Topping off the whole package is a half-hour 1956 featurette called Gun Girls that is full of bad dubbing, stilted dialogue, clumsy editing, cat fights, and lots of salacious bra shots - but also quick to moralize the whole thing as "a grim reminder to some parents that this girl could be your daughter." Parents beware!
For more information about Ma Barker's Killer Brood/Gangsters, visit Image Entertainment. To order Ma Barker's Killer Brood/Gangsters, go to TCM Shopping.
by Pablo Kjolseth
Ma Barker's Killer Brood/Gangbusters - Public Enemy Double Feature on DVD
The film's working title was Ma Barker. After a brief prologue that shows the adult Barker sons burning "Dr. Guelffe" alive, the following written statement appears: "This story is true; documented from police records, newspaper files and eye witness reports. It is the sadistic career of Katherine Clark Barker, master of crime, who taught her sons that the only crime was to 'get caught'. So cunning was this evil genius that in almost two decades of robbery, kidnapping and murder, she herself was never once arrested. Ma Barker, mother to the underworld and public enemy." Except for the title, which follows, all other credits run at the end of the film.
The sequence in which the doctor is killed is repeated in the middle of the picture. In a few scenes, Lurene Tuttle, as "Ma Barker," provides voice-over narration. In addition, at the end of the film, an uncredited male voice describes the fates of the various criminals. There was no film editor credited onscreen or available in contemporary sources. The church sequence at the beginning of the film was shot at the Little Brown Church in the Valley in Sherman Oaks, CA.
As shown in the film, the Barker-Karpis gang was one of the most notorious criminal rings of the twentieth century and consisted mainly of Alvin Karpis and the four Barker sons, Herman, Lloyd, Arthur "Doc" and Freddie. From 1931-1935, they committed numerous robberies, kidnappings and murders. It is unclear, however, whether or not Ma Barker actually participated in the crimes, or merely traveled along with her sons to care for them. Many sources maintain that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover created the legend of her as a vicious criminal mastermind in order to deflect public criticism after FBI agents killed her, along with Fred, in Florida in 1935. Karpis stated in his autobiography that Ma had nothing to do with her sons' activities.
In July 1959, Daily Variety noted that Miriam Hopkins had been cast as Ma Barker. After one day of shooting, however, Hollywood Reporter reported that Hopkins cited exhaustion and was replaced by Tuttle. Although a July 27, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Frank Hill had written the story, only F. Paul Hall is credited onscreen, as the writer of the screenplay.
According to a October 15, 1970 Daily Variety news item, production company Screen Classics sued distributor Filmservice Distributors Corp. for $100,000, claiming that although the film's rights were to revert to Screen Classics after five years, Filmservice still held the negative. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.