'Dillinger' DVD Review **** 080205

The Work = ****
I really enjoy this one. Yes, it owes some in terms of its style to 'Bonnie and Clyde' and to 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' but what the hell? That doesn’t make 'Dillinger' bad by any stretch, it is still a great film. 'Dillinger' tells the story of the notorious criminal from the 1920’s and 30’s. It is a somewhat glamorized portrait that I kind of get the sense Dillinger himself would have liked.

The film is written and directed by John Milius who is probably best known for co-writing 'Apocalypse Now' and for writing and directing 'Conan the Barbarian'. Here Milius shows his skill as he directs some fairly complex action scenes with style. The violence in this film has real impact and is pretty bloody (even compared to 'Bonnie and Clyde'.)

Warren Oates plays Jon Dillinger and he is perfect for the role. I’m guessing he got along with Milius because he seems to be having a great time here. He looks like Dillinger and he certainly looks comfortable handling firearms. Ben Johnson plays the man dedicated to tracking down Dillinger and his gang, Melvin Purvis.

Purvis is bitter after having some of his men killed by Dillinger and his gang and he takes a somewhat obsessive (and cold blooded) approach to tracking Dillinger and Co' down. Milius paints Purvis as being not all that far removed from Dillinger and his gang. (Michael Mann would later explore the similar nature of cop and criminal in his epic 'Heat'.) Purvis in the film is, if anything, jealous of Dillinger’s fame and attention.

Johnson as Purvis is great but unfortunately has several narrations during the film. Purvis’s somber narrations are one of the weaker elements in 'Dillinger'. They are unnecessary and it is too bad they are left in the film. Still, it is a fairly minor complaint and may not bother anyone else.

The supporting cast is solid and does their job well. Harry Dean Stanton and Geoffrey Lewis are two of the more noticeable actors to pop up in the film. Hell, even Richard Dreyfuss, in an early role, shows up for awhile as Baby Face Nelson. Michelle Phillips as Dillinger’s reluctant and abused girlfriend Billie Frechette is good and has to put up with being smacked and dragged around everywhere.

From what I remember reading of the real life Dillinger he was not a particularly smart criminal so much as he was a clever one. He also had some pretty good luck for awhile. In this film, Milius correctly shows that Dillinger and his gang had heavy duty fire power. They used all kinds of available firearms, even those that were government issue. As I recall, they were able to because they broke into the National Treasury.

Milius does an excellent job of showing the impact of the firearms in 'Dillinger'. He shows when someone fires a gun they hit something. It sounds silly but even if a person misses their target the bullet is going to go somewhere. It may just hit the ground, or a tree, or it may hit an innocent but there is going to be an impact somewhere. So often in films there are endless amounts of shots fired with nothing showing a reaction except the target. For me, that can make the firearms seem less dangerous somehow. Milius, working with a lot of onscreen gunfire and what I am pretty sure was a tiny budget, always manages to show some form of impact when people shoot in 'Dillinger'.

I really enjoy this film. There are moments that I especially love such as the way Oates bellows the line: “Look at my face you son’s a ‘bitches!” Another example that comes to mind is when a car pulls up along side Baby Face Nelson and he promptly pours Tommy Gun fire into it. The movie is violent to be sure but if you can stomach the violence than it is an enjoyable gangster picture that has held up quite well in the 30 some odd years since it was made.

DVD = ***

The Look
'Dillinger' is presented in anamorphic widescreen in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture looks pretty good to me. There is grain in many of the shots but for the most part it is not too excessive. However, when it is excessive it’s pretty bad. That does not happen often though and for the most part this is a good transfer.

The Sound
The soundtrack may be the old one but it sounds pretty good to me. The gunshots all sound loud and dangerous (and much better than a lot of films made in that era.) The dialogue, music and effects were clear and easy to hear. The film’s soundtrack is presented in a Dolby Digital mono track.

The Bonus
MGM (who is now owned by Sony) has put out some of the worst DVD covers to date. Take the cover to 'Dillinger' here. The original poster was perfectly nice but if MGM wanted to make a new one why they didn’t just take a still from the film is beyond me. Instead, they made up some horrible looking cover with a still of Oates so bad that it doesn’t even look like him. This cover would never entice any browsing customer to pick this flic’ up and if anything would turn them away.

I have the opportunity to spend so much time talking about the cover because freaken’ MGM has not bothered to put any features on the DVD other than subtitles and a trailer. Considering Milius did a commentary on the 1945 'Dillinger' DVD there is no reason he couldn’t have done one here. This DVD needs a commentary from him and maybe others and at least two documentaries and / or featurettes: one on the real life Dillinger, and one on the making of the film. Come on MGM / Sony do a re-release and do it right!

All Together = ****
If you are a fan of Milius, Oates, or Johnson and /or a fan of action flics this is an easy one to recommend. The DVD lacks features but the transfer is OK and the movie is an enjoyable chauvinistic action film with good acting and solid directing. I really like this film and I think it is an underrated classic. Fans of Peckinpah or the 60s 'Bonnie and Clyde' will probably dig it too. Reccomended.


'Dillinger' Links:


Review of the DVD of the1945 movie 'Dillinger' that Milius does commentary on

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.