'Dillinger' DVD Review *** 072205

The Work = ***
'Dillinger' is a low budget crime drama that is largely memorable for a great performance from Lawrence Tierney. Tierney is probably best known for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s film 'Reservoir Dogs'. He played Joe Cabot, a man who brings together a group of criminals to pull off a robbery.

In 'Reservoir Dogs' Tierney was an old man, with a craggly, puffy, face and a gravely voice. He had a commanding (and somewhat grumpy) presence that was pretty memorable. Made almost fifty years earlier, 'Dillinger' shows Tierney as a young and handsome man. I could see traces of the man he would become in films like 'Reservoir Dogs'.

The younger Tierney often shows the scowl that is constantly on the older Tierney’s face. It is not yet as seemingly permanent as it would become by the time Tierney was taking roles in films in the 90s. Despite not really looking anything like the gangster John Dillinger, Tierney is great in the role and adds a certain amount of tough charisma to his character.

The film itself was no doubt made on a micro budget. Sets are reused, stock footage is used, and the film’s running time is barely over an hour. One of the biggest downsides to 'Dillinger' is the decision by its makers to use footage from Fritz Lang’s film, 'You Only Live Once' (amongst other things.) Adding to that is the very strange nature of 'Dillinger’s structure.

For example, the opening of the movie has an audience in a theater listening to Dillinger’s father speak about his lawbreaking son. The film never returns to the old man and the sequence seems very out of place. Stranger still, this film was nominated for an Oscar in 1945! Maybe writer Philip Yordan’s dialogue and situations won voters over, although as a whole it didn’t really impress me.

Still, the cold performance of Tierney helps to make the movie watchable. In fact the only time that Tierney seemed to give a poor note was towards the end of the film when he watches a cartoon at a theater. Dillinger laughs at the cartoon and Tierney is just not able to give a convincing laugh. What comes out of him is an awkward sound but not really what I would call a laugh.

Tierney strikes me as someone who would have been a much bigger star had his personality not gotten in the way. Having read and heard stories about his sometimes irrational behavior I have to wonder if the man didn’t have some sort of mental illness that was never treated. I don’t mean that as a dig, I just wonder if there wasn’t something that could have been to help the guy be more manageable. Even as Dillinger, acting in one of his first roles, he practically carries the movie.

There are some good scenes in the film as well. One that stood out was a scene involving Dillinger’s return to a restaurant after a stay in prison. He had been in the restaurant before his prison term when he was a small time criminal. When he returns to the establishment he has lots of money to flash around from successful (and violent) robberies and escapes. The waiter does not remember Dillinger and the hood takes it out on the waiter by buying him some drinks and then cutting up the poor man’s face with a broken glass.

DVD = ***

The Look
'Dillinger' looks about as good as it is going to. There are a few moments of print damage but otherwise this film looks pretty good. The picture (with the exception of some of the stock footage) is sharp and clear. The film is presented in 1.33:1.

The Sound
This is a good mono track on the disk. The dialogue and effects sounded clear. Knowing the film’s low budget background, I say just like the picture, the sound is about as good as it is going to get. The DVD has English, Spanish and French Subtitles.

The Bonus
The DVD has the film’s original trailer which tries to make it look like the next 'Little Caesar'. (Yeah right.) The only real feature is a commentary track by John Milius (who did the great 70’s flic’ 'Dillinger'.) Writer Yordan gives a very few comments on the track as well. While not a bad track it is not a great one either.

It would have really benefited from having a film historian on the track or someone who was particularly knowledgeable about the film. As the track is now, there are only scattered bits about the production (largely from the very brief comments from Yordan. Milius really just gives his observations about the film. He does manage to cover topics like the real Dillinger and Milius’ own 'Dillinger' film but he is not particularly knowledgeable about this earlier interpretation of the gangster's life.

All Together = ***
'Dillinger' is available as part of the Warner Brothers 'Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 2' or by itself. It is generally a much better deal if you get it as a part of the collection. (Frankly, I think it might have fit better as an additional disk in the 'Warner Gangster Collection' but whatever.) I enjoyed this film largely because of the performance of Tierney at its core.

There are a few good scenes but on the whole 'Dillinger' seemed pretty disjointed to me. The WB did a good job with this release but I wish there had been a bit more on the commentary track (or even a second one altogether.) I shouldn’t be complaining considering so many older films get bad transfers and are ignored in the extras department. I give this one a light recommendation and say if you are a fan check it out. Otherwise, maybe a rental?


'Dillinger' Links:


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