This is just another movie written and directed by a man with an obsession with firearms who plays fast and loose with the facts. As Purvis, Milius has cast Ben Johnson, and it's an bewildering choice. Johnson is measured, laid-back and callous, and swears to take Dillinger himself. Before going into combat, he has a formal procedure: An assistant agent gives him his twin handguns and lights his cigar. This behavior is the farthest thing from the real Purvis Milius could've ever gotten. Or the real Baby Face Nelson, for that matter, who was never a guy you could just slap around and make cry. How stupid. Also Dillinger himself, like many Chicagoans, in July went to the movies as much to evade the high temperature as to see the flick, and the burdensome overcoats worn by the FBI are out of season.
But this is all fine and I dismiss it readily. While Warren Oates is stunning in his physical resemblance to the eponymous anti-hero, which is of course a genetic accident, he also charges the piece with incredible oomph and blistering force. It's a great performance, surrounded by quite a few others. And more than a story about the American gangster, it's a blast of Milius' imaginary outrage toward living during the Depression and rising up against the oppression. Yes, Milius, with his men's men and indulgent shootouts, is often compared to Peckinpah. And while the comparison is apt, most are content to pin him down as merely a Second Amendment-lovin' reactionary, and leave it at that. But there can hardly be a dramatist who's not in some sense a humanist, an observer of humanity's inclinations.
The mantra for the film (quite literally at one point) becomes "hard times." Dillinger doesn't have to do much scheming to stumble on eager accessories or make a prison warden take his cut of a robbery made immediately after escape. As a Dust Bowl vagrant child observes reasonably enough, the one distinction between the robbers and the lawmen is that you have to go to school to be the latter. And what young boy likes school more than guns and money? There's no stylized pleasure extracted from seeing anyone get shot here. Characters scream in anguish as they die, and no one dies unproblematically. It's a film thick with unanticipated poignancy, Dillinger's return to an acquiescent, heartbroken, patient father, or Harry Dean Stanton uttering that "things ain't workin' out for me today" in a way that indeed no one else could.
Other than that, this film is full of good old fashion VIOLENCE. The acting generally SUCKS. A story about the most sought after criminal in the U.S. besides Al Capone, of course.
True-life story of gangster John Dillinger. His violent life of crime made headline news in the thirties, an he robbed banks across the midwest. A folk hero of sorts, Dillinger was caught in a whirl of machine guns, fast cars and beautiful women. But it came to a bloody end in 1934 when the FBI gunned him down.
I will admit this however: The shootouts are fantastic!
The last half of the film, to it's credit, is full of fast action thrills and mayhem as the members of the gang are all hunted down. The cinematography is first rate as well.
But make no mistake, Dillinger could shoot. Most of the townsfolk and police that are shooting get killed by him or his gang. As most of these town heroes have shotguns, they were not good shots hundreds of feet away from their targets. Instead, they got killed themselves.
["After a shoot-out kills five FBI agents in Kansas City the Bureau target John Dillinger as one of the men to hunt down. Waiting for him to break Federal law they sort out several other mobsters, while Dillinger's bank robbing exploits make him something of a folk hero. Escaping from jail he finds Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson have joined the gang and pretty soon he is Public Enemy Number One. Now the G-men really are after him." (Written by Jeremy Perkins) ]
Occassionally narrated in the beginning by Ben Johnson (as Pervis) is hysterical. He comes on with that good old boy, cowboy talk that made him silly and infamous in all those cheesy John Wayne Westerns. I had to mute the guy everytime he spoke in narration.
Michelle Phillips** (of the sixties singing legends Mamas and Papas) is fun to watch in a brief appearances in one of her few films. Unfortunately, all we see in scenes are Warren Oates, as Dillinger, threatening everyone he meets and asserting his name as the greatest criminal of all. Arrogantly asserting to his victums that they can tell their children about his exploits.
I am sorry, but this is one bad movie in the first half of this supposedly biography-drama film. Please watch Bonnie and Clyde instead...... Despite the reviews by others, this is not for sophisticated, experienced viewers in the first half or even throughout.
Juicy NOTES about the film:
1 After evading police in four states for almost a year, Dillinger was wounded and returned to his father's home to recover. He returned to Chicago in July 1934 and met his end at the hands of police and federal agents who were informed of his whereabouts by Ana Cumpanas. On July 22, the police and Division of Investigation closed in on the Biograph Theater. Federal agents, led by Melvin Purvis, moved to arrest him as he left the theater. He pulled a weapon and attempted to flee but was shot three times and killed.
2 ** 1974 Nominated Golden Globe Most Promising Newcomer - Michelle Phillips
3 After the closing credits a voice (Paul Frees) can be heard decrying the film and calling it a source of corruption for children.
4 Directed, Writer, Screenplay by John Milius
Writes one reviewer:
"I can't help but be somewhat disappointed by the movie. Although it claims to be a kind of biography of Dillinger, you learn very little about him."
Warren Oates ... John Dillinger
Ben Johnson ... Melvin Purvis
Michelle Phillips ... Billie Frechette
Cloris Leachman ... Anna Sage
Harry Dean Stanton ... Homer Van Meter
Geoffrey Lewis ... Harry Pierpont
John P. Ryan ... Charles Mackley (as John Ryan)
Richard Dreyfuss ... Baby Face Nelson
Director: John Milius
Writer: John Milius
Screenplay: John Milius
Executive Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff
Cinematographer: Jules Brenner
Composer: Barry De Vorzon
Executive Producer: Lawrence Gordon
Editor: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
Producer: Buzz Feitshans
Art Director: Trevor Martinez
Set Decorator : Charles Pierce
Associate Producer: Robert Papazian
Here he is on top form as notorius bank robber John Dillinger and it helps that John Milius is the man behind the camera.
Milius fills his film with great character actors such as Harry Dean Stanton ,Steve Kanlay,Roy Jenson, Cloris Leachman and Geoffrey Lewis .
Also Ben Johnson is a knockout as Melvin Purvis , he may not be all serois as Christian Bale was in Public Enemies but he more than matches Oates inthe acting stakes.
Obvious comparisons abound with Public Enemies and while the film may not be as Stylish as Michael Manns Effort ,Milius more than makes up for it with plenty of rip roaring action and ace dialogue.
The film is rough and ready and do you know something ? i loved it just for that .
The direction by Milius often tries to imitate John Ford--in particular the long shots of "The Searchers" and the gunfights are highlights (Harry Dean Stanton's demise is a great moment). Oddly the ending seems rushed and unsatisfactory. Maybe they ran out of time and money, I don't know. Make sure to watch to the very end to hear a disclaimer from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover!