Action, Drama | 107 mins | Released: 1973
Director: John Milius
Starring: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, John P. Ryan
Our Rating: 7
One dedicated G-Man is determined to bring down John Dillinger as he and his gang go on a bank robbing spree across the mid-west.
Dillinger is a 1973 gangster film about the life and criminal exploits of notorious bank robber John Dillinger.
It stars Warren Oates as Dillinger and Ben Johnson as his pursuer, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis. It contains the first film performance by the singer Michelle Phillips as Dillinger’s moll as Billie Frechette. The film, narrated by Purvis, chronicles the last few years of Dillinger’s life (depicted as a matter of months) as the FBI and law enforcement closed in. The setting is Depression-era America, 1933-34.
The film features largely unromanticized depictions of the principal characters. It was written and directed by John Milius for Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International Pictures.
Retired FBI Agent Clarence Hurt, one of the agents involved in the final shootout with Dillinger, was the film’s technical advisor. The film includes documentary imagery and film footage from the era. It includes a verbal renouncing of gangster films written by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover: he was scheduled to read it, but died before the film’s release. The written words of Hoover are read at the film’s close by Paul Frees.
The film was followed by two made-for-TV spin-offs: Melvin Purvis: G-Man (1974) (teleplay written by Milius) and The Kansas City Massacre (1975), both directed by Dan Curtis and each starring Dale Robertson as Purvis.
Dillinger! Was filmed in its entirety in Oklahoma. Much use of various local landmark buildings were used in the filming from Jet, Nash, Jefferson, and Enid, Oklahoma in the North, to Ardmore, the Chickasaw Country Club and the old iron truss bridge near Mannsville, Oklahoma in the South, the Skirvin Tower ballroom, and the Midwest Theater in Oklahoma City, filling in as the Biograph.
Many local would-be actors wound up immortalized on film, such as the warden of the prison, who was in real life, an Enid, Oklahoma postman.
Milius agreed to write the script for a fraction of his usual price if AIP let him direct. Milius later said in 2003:
“I look at it today and I find it very crude, but I do find it immensely ambitious. We didn’t have a lot of money, or time, and we didn’t have such things – we only had so many feet of track, stuff like that. So I couldn’t do moving shots if they involved more than, what, six yards of track. We never had any kind of crane or anything. That’s the way movies were made then.”
Milius says he wanted to make a movie about Dillinger because “of all the outlaws, he was the most marvellous”.
John Dillinger: “My buddies wanted to be firemen, farmers or policemen, something like that. Not me, I just wanted to steal people’s money!”
Big Jim Wollard: “Take the combination of them fellers standing over there, and them shiny cars, and them fancy-lookin’ girls, means they’s all criminals.” When asked why he would say that he responds, “Decent folk don’t live that good.”