Plot: Sgt. Steve Johnson (Robert Sterling) is a detective who works hard and takes pride in his service, as he helps clean up the streets and keep the community safe from cheats, swindlers, and con artists. Johnson is part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s bunco squad, a proud crew dedicated to taking down the swindlers and he is never short on potential leads to follow. His latest assignment finds himself looking into Anthony Wells (Ricardo Cortez), who appears to be in charge of a large scale team of scam artists, but these are worse than the usual riffraff, as Wells and his cohorts are preying upon widows and others who have lost loved ones. But is all just a con or is Wells truly able to communicate with those on the other side?
Entertainment Value: I love the premise of Bunco Squad, a straight arrow detective going head to head with occult style con artists, with a wholesome, dead serious tone that screams 1950s cinema. The movie runs under 70 minutes, so it runs at a nice clip and doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is good news, as this concept might have run of gas if it was pushed much further. But as it stands, Bunco Squad is a tight, efficient detective yarn that uses every trick in the book to work around a low budget, so it has some b movie vibes as well. This is especially true during the seance scenes and some other moments that come off as humorous, despite the square approach taken as far as overall tone. Not all viewers will connect with those kind of sequences, but I think they add some fun and help the movie stand out in the crowd. I also love all the shots of old school Los Angeles, an element sure to delight movie buffs at least a little. I found Bunco Squad to be a brisk, to the point blend of super straight detective tale and unintentional b movie humor, so of course I give it a solid recommendation.
I don’t think I’d call this one to watch for excellent performances, but the movie has a solid cast and the efforts are solid. Some of the performers veer a little into camp, but I think it works and offers a humorous contrast to the dead serious costars, but everyone seems to be trying to keep things serious at least. The unintended humor shines through more out of being overly serious and dipping into melodrama, so keep that in mind and don’t expect knowing winks from Bunco Squad. Robert Sterling is good as the straight arrow detective who takes every crime seriously, from tarot cards to murder and handles himself as such. I like his character and I think he brings it to life well, so fans of detective stories from this period should appreciate his presence. Ricardo Cortez is our main villain and while he isn’t able to really go all out, he is fine and makes a fine addition to the cast. The rest of the performers include Joan Dixon, Dante the Magician, Elisabeth Risdon, and Douglas Fowley.