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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)
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.
DVD Quality: C
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.
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.