4.0 3
Director: John Milius, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips

Cast: John Milius, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips


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John Milius' most famous movie is Conan the Barbarian and his most notorious, at least in leftist film circles, is Red Dawn. His best movie, however, may be Dillinger, his bracing, complex (albeit only semi-accurate) 1973 account of the career of bank robber John Dillinger, starring Warren Oates. This picture, which has stood somewhat in the


John Milius' most famous movie is Conan the Barbarian and his most notorious, at least in leftist film circles, is Red Dawn. His best movie, however, may be Dillinger, his bracing, complex (albeit only semi-accurate) 1973 account of the career of bank robber John Dillinger, starring Warren Oates. This picture, which has stood somewhat in the shadow of Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, is an odd mix of savage violence and beautifully poetic sequences, like a bizarre amalgam of Sam Peckinpah and John Ford. Indeed, the use of "Red River Valley" in the score makes it impossible not to notice Milius' homage to Ford, who used the tune in several of his most famous scenes. The movie is filled with memorable shots, lines, and scenes, and superb performances, beginning with that of Oates, long a favorite character actor in Hollywood, who pushed right up to the edge of genuine stardom with this film. Also worthwhile are the performances of Steve Kanaly as Pretty Boy Floyd, whose scenes are the kind of work on which a major career should rest; Harry Dean Stanton as trigger-happy Homer Van Meter; Richard Dreyfuss as a psychopathic Baby Face Nelson; and Michelle Phillips (formerly of the Mamas and the Papas) in a surprisingly convincing acting debut as Billie Frechette, Dillinger's paramour. The beauty of this film lies not only in Milius' direction and the performances, but also in his script, which delves into the period as much as into the men and their stories. One gets a sense of the misery that surrounded Dillinger's exploits, and why he was such a charismatic figure to many onlookers in the early 1930s, even as he killed and maimed his way across the country. Although he's overshadowed by Oates, veteran actor Ben Johnson acquits himself well in the deliberately understated role of Melvin Purvis, the FBI man who hunted Dillinger down. The script is essentially a battle of wits and wills between Dillinger and Purvis, both highly driven, self-destructive men on opposite sides of the law. The DVD offers a decidedly smoother film-to-video transfer than the old Image Entertainment laserdisc, which is overall an improvement, although it also reveals some flaws. Many scenes display muted tones that give them a period look, rather like faded photographs of the era, but some of it is just plain annoying, as when the look of the movie shifts from shot to shot within the same scene. One element of this disc is a given, however -- the various shoot-outs have deep color textures which allow the blood to be highlighted (no joke), and there is plenty of blood. The sound mix will prove particularly gratifying to fans of action sequences -- the robbery scenes and shoot-out are stunners, with the East Chicago robbery heralding a series of killer, action set pieces, each gunshot captured in perfect fidelity. The same clarity on the audio track allows one to fully appreciate composer Barry DeVorzon's integration of period pop music and acoustic bluegrass instruments into the score. The latter sequences reveal Milius' lyrical side as a filmmaker, such as the Tucson, AZ, dance scene; escaped convict Reed Youngblood (Frank McRae) running after Dillinger to join him; and Pretty Boy Floyd's final attempted escape. The disc, apart from a good transfer and excellent sound, has no other bonuses except the original trailer, but the movie has enough virtues to justify buying.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
Of the rash of Depression-era gangster films that followed in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde, the best found something new to do with the genre. However accidental Arthur Penn's revival of the gangster film, John Milius' directorial debut seems like an intentional attempt to have the last word, portraying gangster life as violent, unpleasant, and brief. Memorably acted by Warren Oates, John Dillinger is portrayed as a sadistic, egomaniacal creep, and his antagonist, G-man Melvin Purvis (also well-acted by fellow Wild Bunch-er Ben Johnson), as an only slightly more sympathetic, vengeance-obsessed prig. The course of the film softens the images of both, but only after their lives descend into increasingly frequent bloodshed. Joining Dillinger after his career is well under way, Milius has no interest in examining what made him the man he is, only an interest in his actions and their wider social implications. Working within apparent budget restrictions, the director does a remarkable job of re-creating period details and manages some impressive shoot-outs. But it is Oates' portrayal of Dillinger's compulsive need for celebrity and unwillingness to surrender the gangster lifestyle, as well as colorful supporting turns by Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss, and others that make this exemplary B-movie linger in the memory.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Mgm (Video & Dvd)
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[Dolby Digital, monaural]

Special Features

Original theatrical trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Warren Oates John Dillinger
Ben Johnson Melvin Purvis
Michelle Phillips Billie Frechette
Cloris Leachman Anna Sage
Harry Dean Stanton Homer Van Meter
Richard Dreyfuss Baby Face Nelson
Jerry Summers Tommy Carroll
Geoffrey Lewis Harry Pierpont
Robert H. Harris Ed Fulton
Terry J. Leonard Theodore "Handsome Jack" Klutas
John Martino Eddie Martin
Frank McRae Reed Youngblood
John Ryan Charles Mackley
Steve Kanaly Pretty Boy Floyd
Read Morgan Big Jim Wollard
Roy Jenson Samuel Cowley

Technical Credits
John Milius Director,Screenwriter
Samuel Z. Arkoff Producer
Jules Brenner Cinematographer
Sam Coslow Songwriter
Alexis Dubin Songwriter
Tom Ellingwood Makeup
Buzz Feitshans Producer
A.D. Flowers Special Effects
James George Costumes/Costume Designer
Harry Gillespie Songwriter
Lawrence Gordon Producer
W. Franke Harling Songwriter
Don Johnson Sound/Sound Designer
Arthur Johnston Songwriter
Max Kleven Stunts
Donald C. Klune Asst. Director
Robert A. Papazian Producer
Charles R. Pierce Set Decoration/Design
Leo Robin Songwriter
Richard Rodgers Songwriter
Barbara Siebert-Boticoff Costumes/Costume Designer
Seymour Simons Songwriter
Barry De Vorzon Score Composer
Harry Warren Songwriter
Cliff Wenger Special Effects
Richard A. Whiting Songwriter
Trevor Williams Art Director

Scene Index

Side #1
0. Scene Selections
1. My Entire Account [1:20]
2. Main Title [2:37]
3. Future Dead Bodies [1:38]
4. No Banks, No Gas [2:40]
5. Douglas Fairbanks [2:18]
6. Who's The Broad? [2:33]
7. A Cigar For Wilbur [6:28]
8. Heavy Losses [5:50]
9. G-Men [1:50]
10. The Happiest Robber [1:57]
11. Handsome Jack's Demise [:56]
12. They's All Criminals [5:29]
13. A Futile Exercise [2:11]
14. Cops And Robbers [2:36]
15. Soap Gun [5:01]
16. The Bank En Route [2:11]
17. Hard Times [1:53]
18. A Promise To Billie [1:57]
19. A Federal Offense [1:40]
20. Family Reunion [2:19]
21. The Pecking Order [6:08]
22. Chicago For Dancing [4:43]
23. Mason City, Iowa [6:03]
24. Early Morning Thunder [7:23]
25. Baby Face Strikes Out [3:42]
26. Not A Sound, Leroy [2:09]
27. Pretty Boy Needs Help [1:49]
28. The Oldest Trick [3:16]
29. You Need A Bible [5:21]
30. The Lady In Red [3:05]
31. At The Biograph [5:29]
32. Epilogue/Credits [2:24]


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Dillinger 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
jsphtnnr3920152 More than 1 year ago
Best Violent Gangster Film Ever
ChandlerSwain More than 1 year ago
Given his penchant for mythmaking, the historical facts depicted in director/screenwriter John Milius' "Dillinger" are suspect at best, but who cares? This is a rattling good tale of gangsterism in the golden Warner Bros. tradition with the additional trappings of widescreen, color and the expulsion of the Production Code. Warren Oates, that most underrated of actors, is a dead-ringer for former Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger and this film is Milius' exciting version of his short but violent reign as America's most famous bank robber. Cannily, the film is a dual story, spending almost half of it's time following the exploits of super G-Man Melvin Purvis who relentlessly pursues Dillinger and a whole series of criminal miscreants throughout the Midwest; each episode told with wit, style and not a small level of visceral excitement. Ben Johnson is winning as the invincible, incorruptable Purvis and his cat-and-mouse tightening of the screws in eventual pursuit of Dillinger's gang is played with a calm civility that is novel in gangster films; he knows he's going to get his man but until he does, why not scold and tweak his quarry as a disciplining parent would do with a bratty child? Meanwhile, Dillinger's crime spree is depicted with relish, each robbery a mini-masterpiece of staging action. The sequences are frenetically shot and edited, not to mention violent; a whiplash counterpoint to the scenes of Dillinger's gang engaged in a fraternal comeraderie. Milius' script is packed with incident and characters but is constructed so concisely as to afford each member of the gang enough room to develop far beyond mere thumbnail portraitures. Performances in the film are sharp and appealing with Harry Dean Stanton as Homer Van Meter, Geoffrey Lewis as Harry Pierpont and Steve Kanaly as Pretty Boy Floyd faring best. Only two performers disappoint: Michelle Phillips is a colorless Billie Frechette (Dillinger's love interest) and Richard Dreyfuss mercilessly chews up the scenery as a Ritalin needy Baby Face Nelson. But it is Warren Oates as Dillinger who brings the film it's balance against the formidable Ben Johnson. Oates charms even when waving a tommy gun in the face of a bank teller, and while it would be easy to root for this gang of colorful outlaws, the intense violence depicted in their exploits combined with the authoritative presence of Purvis never lets you forget that while momentarily engaging, these are vicious killers unworthy of our sympathy. Milius' exceptionally crafted film lets you enjoy a more graphic gangster picture while allowing you the luxury of simultaneously enjoying a moral high ground. This bare-bones DVD contains a widescreen presentation with fine sound and a minutely soft picture which replicates the original theatrical experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago