A few months back I watched Johnny Depp and Christian Bale starring in a so-so movie based on the excellent book by Bryan Burrough titled Public Enemies, and it got me to feeling nostalgic for one of the best “badguy” movies of the 1970’s and maybe all time, 1973’s, Dillinger, starring the great Warren Oates and helmed by Red Dawn director John Milius.
After the huge success of both Bonnie & Clyde and The Godfather, our friends at American International Pictures decided to make their own small budget gangster epic, and the result was, Dillinger, the “true” story of the bank robbing gangs making their way across the American Midwest of 1933. Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, G-Man Melvin Purvis and of course the big man himself John Dillinger are all featured to great effect. The story is fast moving, violent in some places, funny as hell in others.
And some great performances too.
Of course veteran badass, Warren Oates just dominates the screen as Dillinger. He’s charming, smart, even admirable, but also ruthless and cold. And yet it is impossible not to love Oates Dillinger. Treated as a depression era Robin Hood, stealing from the Middle Class and giving to himself. Oates performance is hypnotic and alone would make this movie a classic, but when you add in great little performances by Richard Dreyfuss as a thoroughly detestable Baby Face Nelson...
Veteran cowboy actor Ben Johnson’s Melvin Purvis, the kind of “Dick Tracy” FBI man who eats gunmen for breakfast, Harry Dean Stanton and Geoffrey Lewis in strong and funny supporting roles as Dillinger gang members, Harry Pierpoint and Homer Van meter...
Michelle Phillips, looking delicate and sad as Dillinger’s love, Billy Ferchette and the great Cloris Leachman in a too small part as Anna Sage, the Lady in Red.
Other than Oates, one other performance stands out from the rest of this fantastic crowd, and that’s actor Steve Kanaly as Pretty Boy Floyd. I had never really noticed Kanaly before other than his run on Dallas as foreman Ray Krebs, and truthfully he is only on screen in Dillinger for about 15 minutes, but Kanaly gives a sad and sweet performance as Charlie Floyd, a depression era man who like Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath is forced into crime by the utter poverty around him.
Dillinger is the star, but it’s Floyd who Milius gives his heart to...
It’s enough to make you wish it was all true.
This is a film that plays fast and loose with dates and relationships, but the sprit is good, the sets and costumes are perfect and the violent action is top notch.
If you want a great film about badmen, this one is for you.