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Dillinger


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Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his first film, Breathless, to Monogram Pictures, and Dillinger (1945) was probably the main reason why. Short and brutal, like the Depression outlaw's brashly improvisatory career, Max Nosseck's picture was a bit of an outlaw enterprise itself. In the '40s the major Hollywood studios had all taken a vow of chastity when it came to glorifying the headline-grabbing gangsters of the previous decade; Monogram ignored the embargo and barreled ahead, grabbing some headlines of its own and more box office than usual for a Poverty Row operation. Philip Yordan's script was Oscar-nominated (on the DVD's commentary track he co-credits his friend William Castle, director of Monogram's excellent When Strangers Marry), though the film has a patchwork feel to it, as if assembled and reassembled on the run. Directed by Max Nosseck, it's a hypnotic mix of bargain-basement filmmaking (lotsa stock footage and stark, minimalist sets), astute ripoff (the rain-and-gas-bomb robbery sequence from Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once), and Brechtian bravura. The storyline actually scants the ultraviolence (no Bohemia Lodge shootout) and all-star supporting cast (no Pretty Boy Floyd, no Baby Face Nelson) of Dillinger's real life--likely a matter of cost-cutting rather than abstemiousness. Newcomer Lawrence Tierney nails the guy's coldblooded freakiness and animal magnetism, and the supporting cast includes such éminences noirs as Marc Lawrence, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Elisha Cook Jr. Producers Maurice and Frank King would make the great Gun Crazy four years later. --Richard T. Jameson

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Fast paced action, but the DVD quality was sub par July 27 2005
By Daniel C. Markel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
This review is for the 2005 Warner Brothers DVD.

This film is about the real life bank robber John Dillinger who is arguably the most notorious robber in the history of American and earned the nickname "Public Enemy #1". From my brief research on the internet, the movie appears to be relatively true to form. From the early `30s until his death in 1934, Dillinger wreaked havoc across America with his brutal bank robberies and daring prison escapes.

The film itself moves fast, but is only 70 minutes long. There is little character development and the action is continuous and rarely dull. Lawrence Tierney stars as John Dillinger. This was his screen acting debut and he does little to set the acting world on fire. Even in scenes of major confrontation, Tierney seems expressionless and lacks emotional body language. Perhaps this was by design by the director. But if you are fan of vintage gangster films, I'm confident that you will be entertained and pleased with action and drama.

The DVD was remastered but not restored and unfortunately there was a significant amount of film damage. There were five or six scenes with at least 3 or 4 seconds of severely damaged footage. The remastering helped make the picture look sharp but tiny specs of deterioration were still prevalent throughout the film, but that wasn't a major deal compared to the noticeably larger scratches. Warner has historically been one of the better studios for film restoration and they obviously decided to not fix up this film. Due to the limited market of a DVD like this, I'm sure the payoff wasn't there to restore an entire movie, but if they would have at least fixed the severely damaged frames, that would have been sufficient for me.

PLEASE NOTE: Before buying this DVD, consider buying the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2 which contains this movie plus four other highly recommended movies at a very reasonable price.

Movie: B-

DVD Quality: C
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Lawrence Tierney becomes a star in vintage crime drama Aug. 18 2004
By Dave - Published on Amazon.com
Format: VHS Tape
This is definitely one of Hollywood's first (if not the very first) movies about the notorious gangster, John Dillinger. Lawrence Tierney plays him to perfection as he guns down his victims while his cold, emotionless face shows no remorse. One of the most brutal scenes of all the gangster classics is when Tierney discovers an elderly couple about to phone the police & turn him in, & promptly guns them down. While this isn't a very accurate account of Dillinger's life, the main elements are there, especially the mysterious "lady in red" who betrays Dillinger to the police. Unfortunately, little time is spent on the details of his many bank robberies, but after all, this is a crime drama, not a documentary. Although largely forgotten today, this was a big success back in 1945, making Lawrence Tierney a star. His acclaimed performance in this classic led to starring roles in some great film noirs & gangster dramas: "Born to Kill"-1947, "The Devil Thumbs a Ride"-1947, "Bodyguard"-1948, "Shakedown"-1950, "The Hoodlum"-1951. If you like an entertaining gangster flick & aren't too picky about getting the facts right then this one's for you.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Lawrence Tierney Rules!!! July 10 2005
By David Baldwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Yes, this film feels like a diatribe. It's probably less factual than the film version of John Dillinger's exploits that director John Milius made in the seventies. So why do I recommend this film over Milius' more polished account? Well, this film in a campy, over-the-top way is just so entertaining. Secondly, Lawrence Tierney in the title role is such a magnetic screen presence. His tough ferocity keeps the film's campier elements in check and grounds it in some semblance of reality. There's also a good supporting cast here with gangster veterans Marc Lawrence and Elisha Cook Jr. (seems like he's in all these noir-gangster flicks) on hand. The story is told here crisply and in an economical 70 minutes so if you have an hour plus to kill there's worse ways to do it. Oh, John, if only you had the two bucks to pay for the drinks!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Fast-Moving, With A Real Thug Playing A Famous Thug! April 23 2006
By Craig Connell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
This movie has several big things going for it: its short, fast-moving and just plain entertaining. How much more do you want? Also, Lawrence Tierney was made for gangster/film noir movies. He looks the part, acts the part, and was a thug in real life, too. Who better than to portray famous criminal John Dillinger as a cold-blooded killer?

This was Tierney's starring debut and it was a good vehicle for him. I also enjoyed Edmund Lowe as the gang boss prior to Tierney taking over. I enjoyed the supporting cast, too: Anne Jeffreys, Elisha Cook Jr., Eduardo Cianelli and Marc Lawrence. All of them add to this film.

I was glad they concentrated on the crime part of the film and didn't go crazy with a sappy romance. However, I am sorry Jeffreys wasn't on screen more often. She had the '40s look, if I ever saw it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Little Picture That Could July 7 2005
By J. Michael Click - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Movie: **** DVD Transfer: **** Extras: ***

This ultra low-budget film released by Poverty Row's Monogram Pictures is much better than the studio's standard fare, thanks to the artistry of a fine cast and a few capable technicians. The script by Philip Yordan is a typical biographical whitewash job that bears only a passing resemblance to the true story of 1930's gangster John Dillinger; and yet it works just fine as a piece of noir crime drama, with sturdy dialogue and interesting characters. In his first starring role, Lawrence Tierney acquits himself well as Dillinger; and lovely Anne Jeffreys (although anachronistic in her 1940's fashions and hairstyle) turns in a fine performance as his treacherous moll. But the real acting honors are shared by the four actors who comprise Tierney's original gang: former silent star Edmund Lowe; veteran character player Eduardo Ciannelli; the craggy-faced Marc Lawrence; and the always reliable Elisha Cook, Jr. Each of these men is given a brief but ample opportunity to shine, and each one makes the most of his turn in the spotlight. Also of note are the musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin, and the moody black and white cinematography of Jackson Rose.

The Warner Brothers DVD release of this film offers unexpectedly fine picture and audio quality. It must be kept in mind that to keep production costs down, "Dillinger" includes many snippets of stock footage from other films, and this generic footage was filmed at different times with varying film grains, and with a hodge-podge of technical styles. As presented here, it all blends fairly seemlessly, with only a few really rough spots standing out. The DVD includes a serviceable audio commentary by John Milius, director of the 1973 "Dillinger"; his sometimes meandering remarks are intercut with old excerpts of an interview with screenwriter Yordan. The Original Theatrical Trailer is also included ... see if you don't agree that the "Time" magazine quote at the trailer's end ("DILLINGER reached unmatched heights of daredevil ruthlessness!") refers to the actual man rather than the magazine's review of this little diamond in the rough.


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