Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Dillinger (1973)
Studio Line: MGM - ...he was the gangster's gangster.

From the writer of Apocalypse Now comes an electrifying crime saga about one of the most notorious gangsters of the 1930's. Starring Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman and Richard Dreyfuss, Dillinger sets the screen ablaze with explosive shootouts, daring escapes and magnificent performances.

Bank robber John Dillinger (Oates) has becomes a folk hero to the people of depression-era America, capturing their imaginations with the exploits of his outlaw "super-gang." But time may be running out for Dillinger's violent band of fugitives; the FBI's finest agent (Johnson) is on the case, and his pursuit won't end until every member of the gang is behind bars…or dead!

Charged with heartstopping action and riveting drama, Dillinger is an unforgettable experience hailed as nothing less than "brilliant" (San Francisco Chronicle)!

Director: John Milius
Cast: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 32 chapters; rated R; 109 min.; $29.99; street date 9/19/00.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Dillinger: The Untold Story - G. Russell Girardin | The Dillinger Days - - John Toland

Picture/Sound/Extras: C/C-/D-

For those of us too young to remember the Twenties and Thirties - most of us, that is - it seems quite odd to consider a US in which criminals were famous and apparently acquired a movie-star aura. Frankly, I can't even think of any notorious lawbreakers of the modern era who are famous for their crimes other than the Unabomber. Of course, O.J. became infamous for his alleged infractions, but that stemmed from his prior fame.

However, it seems that back in the day, gangsters were quite well-known and received heavy attention from the press and the public. Perhaps the biggest name of them all was that of John Dillinger, the famed "public enemy number one" who never met a bank he couldn't rob.

Clearly there's a great story waiting to be told, but if you want a fine movie about Dillinger, you'll have to look elsewhere; the 1973 effort that bears his last name is mediocre at best and silly at worst.

Directed and written by John Milius - best known for his work on the script of Apocalypse Now - Dillinger offers a disjointed and messy depiction of the gangster's career. The story lacks cohesion and tends to jump from event to event with alacrity. Milius makes some token attempts to develop the characters, mainly through Dillinger's (Warren Oates) romance with Billie Frechette (Michelle Phillips). However, these efforts seem terribly half-hearted and go nowhere.

I could excuse the film's jumpy transitions if one plot device its uses were more encompassing. Dillinger is narrated by Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), the government agent on the trail of the outlaw. Had the movie all come from Purvis' point of view, then the disjointed observations of Dillinger's actions would make more sense. However, this isn't the case; events in which Purvis took part are intermixed with many that he didn't witness, so there's no consistency to be found.

There's not much else going for Dillinger either. The dialogue is consistently inane and witless, and the characters are thinly-drawn at virtually all times. Although Dillinger presents a very strong cast - we also find Cloris Leachman, Richard Dreyfuss, and Harry Dean Stanton among others - virtually all of them come across as hammy and silly; the majority of the actors behave as though they were untalented "B"-movie hacks.

Milius displays some flair when it comes to the film's action sequences, but even those left me cold. They seemed overwrought and elongated and had little effect on me. Ultimately Dillinger seems like nothing more than a cheap rip-off of Bonnie and Clyde, the most highly-regarded gangster film ever made. Ignore the long roster of talent associated with Dillinger; it's a dud.

The DVD:

Dillinger appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it showed some positive moments, the overall impression provided by the picture is very mediocre.

Sharpness usually appeared acceptably clear and concise, but the "period" photography led to some vaguely soft images at times. Most of the movie seemed crisp within those limits, however. Moiré effects and jagged edges provided no concerns, and I detected few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws seemed moderately problematic. The image presented a fair amount of grain at times, and I also saw speckles, grit, and a few thin vertical lines at times. Some frame jitter occurred as well; on a few occasions, the image seemed to "jump" slightly.

Colors generally were bland and drab. Though part of this appeared due to the style of the photography, the hues seemed a little too pale nonetheless; I witnessed some decent red tones at times but everything else looked subdued. Black levels were a bit murky but seemed largely deep and dense, but shadow detail appeared excessively heavy throughout most of the film. Low-light situations came across as overly dark and thick. Dillinger remained watchable throughout the DVD but I thought the picture seemed ordinary nonetheless.

Even less stimulating was the film's monaural soundtrack. Only the movie's score fared well. Surprisingly, the music seemed clear and appropriately bright, with distinct highs and some relatively well-developed bass. Unfortunately, the rest of the track sounded pretty weak. Dialogue was thin and dull at best, and the speech often displayed excessively edgy and rough qualities; most of the lines were intelligible but sometimes they became very difficult to understand. Effects sounded lifeless and bland, and they often were very rough; gunfights seemed especially harsh and distorted. Only the high-quality music kept the soundtrack of Dillinger out of "D" territory.

Dillinger features almost no supplements. We find the film's original theatrical trailer and that's it.

Although it boasts a very solid cast and a well-known writer/director, Dillinger seems less than the sum of its parts. It offers a few mildly exciting action scenes but suffers from weak character and plot development, inane dialogue and over-emotive acting. The DVD presents mediocre picture, fairly weak sound, and almost no extras. Dillinger is a DVD that probably should stay on the shelves.

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