Monday, July 06, 2009

DILLINGER (1973) - John Milius

This weekend, my prescription for crime was a double-dose of John Dillinger.

In prep for Mann's version, I grabbed a $7 copy of this Samuel Z. Arkoff shoot-'em-up featuring everyone's favorite redneck peckerwood Warren Oates as the legendary bank robber and Public Enemy Number One. Guess what? It's actually pretty damn good.

Sure, Oates is not as pretty to look at as boyish Johnny D. and maybe a little more hot-headed and braggadocios than a master criminal should be ("I'm John Dillinger, goddamnit!"). But hell if he doesn't have charisma and an excellent supporting cast sprinkled with some fine character actors in early roles (i.e., a cherubic Richard Dreyfuss as Baby Face, Cloris Leachman as the Lady in Red). Not to mention some always welcome western stalwarts like Harry Dean Stanton and Ben Johnson as Melvin Purvis ("I'll smoke one cigar for every one of Dillinger's boys that I kill").

The solid direction by card-carrying NRA scribe John Milius (he of Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn and Conan) is appropriately blood-thirsty, cutting the talk to a minimum and getting straight to the shoot-outs with stops for popping flash bulbs and local Dillinger photo ops in between. The opening scene with Oates immediately breaking the fourth wall, in effect "robbing the camera," is inspired, and the ending is quick and brutal not lingering over Dillinger's bullet ridden corpse in front of the Biograph for longer than it needs.

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