Dillinger (1973)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Gangster Film, Biopic [feature], Crime Thriller  |   Run Time - 107 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Of the rash of Depression-era gangster films that followed in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde, the best found something new to do with the genre. However accidental Arthur Penn's revival of the gangster film, John Milius' directorial debut seems like an intentional attempt to have the last word, portraying gangster life as violent, unpleasant, and brief. Memorably acted by Warren Oates, John Dillinger is portrayed as a sadistic, egomaniacal creep, and his antagonist, G-man Melvin Purvis (also well-acted by fellow Wild Bunch-er Ben Johnson), as an only slightly more sympathetic, vengeance-obsessed prig. The course of the film softens the images of both, but only after their lives descend into increasingly frequent bloodshed. Joining Dillinger after his career is well under way, Milius has no interest in examining what made him the man he is, only an interest in his actions and their wider social implications. Working within apparent budget restrictions, the director does a remarkable job of re-creating period details and manages some impressive shoot-outs. But it is Oates' portrayal of Dillinger's compulsive need for celebrity and unwillingness to surrender the gangster lifestyle, as well as colorful supporting turns by Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss, and others that make this exemplary B-movie linger in the memory.