(Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss, Michelle Phillips, et al / Blu ray+DVD / R / (1973) 2016 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: The directorial debut of John Milius, 'Dillinger' stars Sam Peckinpah favorites Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as Dillinger and Purvis. With a supporting cast including Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, Milius presents John Dillinger as an almost mythical figure, tracing the rise and fall of the Depression era's Public Enemy Number One as he takes on the banks and the G-men, led by the infamous Melvin Purvis.
Blu ray Verdict: Writer-director John Milius once said that he wanted to make a movie about John Dillinger because "of all the outlaws, he was the most marvelous". Well, just 20 minutes into his 'Dillinger' and you know he made exactly what he set out to make: a quality film, based on one of the most notorious hoodlums from the Depression era.
The film, unlike most of its kind, doesn't bother to probe the psychological impulses that first drives an individual to crime. There are no flashbacks to Dillinger's childhood (we are only shown his coming home to an average, middle-of-the-road American family) and those unfamiliar with the true story will have to assume that John Dillinger, the bank robber and outlaw, is a natural by-product of the Great Depression and the poverty that sweeps the nation.
That sentiment is echoed in the scene in which Ben Johnson confronts a little boy. Used to be that cops, cowboys, and firefighters were boys' heroes. Well, not no more they're not. The kid, when told he has to go to school to be a G-Man, bluntly retorts that "Dillinger didn't." "But he's in jail!" Purvis shoots back. The kid waves and walks away. Purvis is puzzled. Things have changed.
Only later on, during Dillinger's confrontations with "Babyface" Nelson do we get hints that Dillinger's bank-robbing spree is fueled by growing megalomania: "You can't kill me, punk! I'm immortal!" He has embraced the myth that sensationalized press accounts of his exploits have created and it becomes clear that Dillinger fancies himself a hero of the people, a rebel fighting Hoover, Roosevelt's New Deal, and Big Government.
The films remains even-handed though, never passing judgment on the central figure's morality or lack thereof (though Dillinger himself is a little too often referred to as "nice" despite some proofs to the contrary). Purvis is not necessarily portrayed as an Elliott Ness-like paragon of morality either, he's no arbiter of all that's just and good, he's just a man on a mission - to avenge the Kansas City massacre in which several FBI agents perished at the hands of gangsters.
'Dillinger' is almost documentary-like in this way; the viewer is presented with the facts (however fictionalized for creative purposes) and it's up to him to make up his mind, though I'll admit I found myself rooting for Dillinger and his gang during the shootouts (is the failing on my part or Milius's?)
Like all bank-robbery films, the movie tends to be somewhat shapeless, events happen in an elliptical fashion to mark the span of time between hits and the tension in-between what is basically a succession of set-pieces, is relieved by quiet interludes of the wild bunch enjoying the fruits of their labor in the peaceful countryside. So, in closing, and in truth, 'Dillinger' may, in the end, be too narrow in scope to fully do justice to as fascinating a figure as its eponymous anti-hero. Nevertheless, it is a very watchable crime action film, of that have no doubt whatsoever.
[FYI - The newsreel footage showing John Dillinger being extradited from Tuscon back to Indiana is actually a combination of the real news footage of Dillinger's transfer and that of the FBI transporting "Machine Gun" George Kelly. The latter is the footage of a ladder being rolled up to an American Airways plane and the wide shot of men gathered around cars.] This is a new High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Brand new 2K restoration of the film from original film materials
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the film
Original mono soundtrack (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema and Screening Violence
Newly-filmed interview with producer Lawrence Gordon
Newly-filmed interview with director of photography Jules Brenner
Newly-filmed interview with composer Barry De Vorzon
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
Collector s booklet containing new writing by Kim Newman on fictional portrayals of John Dillinger, plus an on-set report containing interviews with writer-director John Milius and others, illustrated with original production stills