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USA 1973
Directed by
John Milius
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


The shade of Arthur Penn’s classic Depression-era gangster movie Bonnie and Clyde (1967) was clearly hanging over writer-director John Milius’s substantially similar film about the short reign of John Dillinger as Public Enemy No 1 (as the real life Dillinger was under the shade of the real Bonnie and Clyde). Unfortunately the best he could do to give it his own stamp was go for broke on the gun play (a gun enthusiast, he was on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association).

One of the major strengths of Penn’s film was the script by Robert Benton with its well-rounded characters and persuasive interpersonal dynamics. Milius’s script doesn’t come close it, Dillinger and his woman, Billy Frechette, having none of the charisma of Bonnie and Clyde as Warren Owens and former The Mamas and Papas singer Michelle Phillips have none of the allure of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Whilst Warren Oates is well-cast as Dillinger (he even bears a resemblance to him), as portrayed here a fatalistic sociopath with a certain measure of charm, Phillips, like all the other characters in the film is merely a cipher. The only exception being John Ford regular Ben Johnson as Melvyn Purvis, the G-man who made the pursuit of Dillinger a very personal thing.

At best, with its grubby realism Dillinger is a solid addition to the crime-doesn’t-pay tradition of gangster movies yet given that the main emphasis is on action, Milius’s staging of the gun battles is both credulity-stretchingly excessive (you’ll wonder how the gangsters could accumulate so much ordnance, let alone cart it around) and, too often, as clumsy as a B-grade western. 




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