Dillinger (1973)




Director:  John Milius.

Starring:  Warren Oates (John Dillinger), Ben Johnson (Melvin Purvis, Midwest Bureau Chief, F.B.I./Narrator), Michelle Phillips (Billie Frechette), Cloris Leachman (Anna Sage, The Lady in Red), Harry Dean Stanton (Homer Van Meter), Geoffrey Lewis (Harry Pierpont), John Ryan (Charles Mackley), Richard Dreyfuss (Baby Face Nelson), Steve Kanaly (Pretty Boy Floyd), John Martino (Eddie Martin), Roy Jenson (Samuel Cowley, Special Agent, F.B.I.).

This story is about the infamous real bank robber John Dillinger and his pursuit by Melvin Purvis. 


Spoiler Warning:

Pretty good flick with lots of shoot-outs and killing.  F.B.I agent Melvin Purvis knows about the infamous John Dillinger, but the bank robber has not committed any federal offense as of yet and so the only thing Purvis can do is to wait for such a violation. 

In 1933 in East Chicago Dillinger and his gang (including favorites Van Meter and Pierpont) rob the First National Bank where Dillinger kills the bank guard.  The gang then heads west.

Memphis, Tennessee, 1933.  Purvis captures George "Machine Gun" Kelly.  (In the process, "Machine Gun" gives the F.B.I. agents a new nickname: "G-men" or government men.) 

Bellwood, Illinois, 1933.  Purvis hunts down and kills the vicious killer Handsome Jack Clutis with the Barker-Corpis gang. 

Tucson, Arizona, 1933.  While at an outdoor festival, Sheriff Big Jim Willard spots and then catches Dillinger.  The prisoner is taken to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana. Dillinger jokes around with the jail staff saying that "Ain't no jail will hold me; it's an exercise in futility."  And Dillinger does escape by the now famous method of whittling a gun from a bar of soap and blackening it with shoe polish.  To help him in his get-away he frees a black murderer named Reed.  In escaping, he drives a stolen car across state lines and this enables Melvin Purvis to come after him. 

At a picnic with members of his gang, Dillinger meets two new gang members: Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson.  It is not long before the newspapers carry such Dillinger headlines as "Wanted by Seven States"; "Public Enemy #1"; and "State of Indiana Under Siege."

Mason City, Iowa.  The Dillinger gang finally make a mistake.  The local sheriff recognizes one of the gang members and prepares a reception for the bank robbers when they attempt to make their escape.  The gang kills a lot of the waiting citizens and lawmen.  Reed is killed along with another gang member. 

At their hide-out, the gang arouses a man's curiosity and he finds the get-away car with bullet holes in it.  The man alerts the F.B.I. and Melvin Purvis arrives with virtually a small army.  At dawn the next day, a large-scale shoot-out begins.  Harry Pierpont dies during the get-away.  Baby Face Nelson is killed after a car chase.  Van Meter is killed on the main street of a small town.  Pretty Boy Floyd is killed trying to escape across a field from the farm house where he was having dinner with the farm owners when Purvis and company drove up.

That just leaves Dillinger.  He successfully escapes.  The next time we hear of him, Anna Sage, a local madam of a house of prostitution and an alien with a criminal record, is telling Purvis about the new boarder who she is sure is Dillinger.  Purvis sets a trap.  As Dillinger exits the local Biograph Theatre with the prostitute Polly on one arm and Anna Sage on the other, the F.B.I jumps him and Purvis kills Dillinger. 

The movie is entertaining, but from an historical point of view, they greatly exaggerated the high points.  The shoot-outs become virtual battles and the rather ordinary gang members with Dillinger become the infamous Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson.  But the basic ideas are there in the movie and the ending is true to life. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:



See Dillinger (1945) for Historical Background.


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