Director: John Milius
Starring: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, John Ryan & Richard Dreyfuss
Released by: Arrow Video
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Chronicling the final months of the infamous gangster, Dillinger stars Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) as Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger on his bank robbing exploits as determined FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show) closes in on his gang’s reign of crime. Michelle Phillips (Valentino), Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein), Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man), John Ryan (It’s Alive) and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) co-star in John Milius’ (Red Dawn) directorial debut.
Displeased with the outcome of his previously scripted features, the intimidatingly creative John Milius would be lured by American International Pictures to tell the tale of one of America’s most infamous characters. Smooth as he was crooked, John Dillinger was idolized by the country’s average joes for his style and prison escape abilities while, law enforcement, rightfully so, had little affection for the criminal outside of seeing him push up daisies. Creative liberties withstanding, Dillinger traces the famed bank robber’s assault on the midwest, his encounter and love affair with Billie Frechette (Phillips), the culmination of his cohorts including, Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly, Dallas), Baby Face Nelson (Dreyfuss) among others and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis’ ruthless pursuit of Dillinger leading to his unapologetic demise. Crafting a mythic tale that lives up to Dillinger’s legendary reputation, Warren Oates, reportedly never deeply researching his character, exudes charisma and ferocity as the commonly nonlethal criminal while, Academy Award winner Ben Johnson’s controlled demeanor and cigar chomping fearlessness wonderfully counterbalances the wildness of Dillinger’s gang of deviants.
Although its female characters are grossly underdeveloped leading more to be desired from Dillinger and Billie’s relationship, Dillinger’s technical limitations affords the film a raw, documentary-like quality juxtaposed with black and white still photography and era accurate stock footage crafting a tonally rich presentation. Far more brutal than the eternally hailed Bonnie and Clyde, Director John Milius' debut opus is an ambitious, down and dirty shoot’em up centered on the fascinating Dillinger gang and their violent assault on the country before succumbing to the returned fire of the capture hungry FBI. Concerned with honoring the larger than life aspects of its titular character, Dillinger enforces the legend with its ruthlessly entertaining depiction.
Restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Dillinger with a 1080p transfer, retaining its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Casting a softer focus to retain a naturally lit appearance, colors can appear subdued with bolder choices found in wall paint and particular ensembles making stronger impressions. Skin tones are rich with the gang’s suits appearing nicely textured while, black levels, although not deeply inky, are sufficiently pleasing with only minor instances of specks and flakes on display. Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audible while, the screeching sounds of getaway vehicles and tommy gun fire leave effective statements. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Author Stephen Prince, a Music & Effects Track, Shooting Dillinger with Jules Brenner (12:01) where the film’s cinematographer sits down for a newly captured interview, Lawrence Gordon: Original Gangster (10:08) hosts the producer as he recollects on his many credits and the film in question and Bullets and Ballads with Barry De Vorzon (12:00) finds the composer of The Warriors and Rolling Thunder sharing his personal experiences on many of his achievements. Finally, a Still Gallery (99 in total), the Theatrical Trailer (2:23), a 23-page booklet featuring new and vintage essays from Kim Newman and John Astin, a DVD counterpart and a Reversible Cover Art boasting the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the releases supplements.
Violently entertaining and wonderfully capturing a bygone era, Dillinger continues the assault of gangster cinema laid forth by Bonnie and Clyde with skilled performances and a rawness that draws viewers into Dillinger’s getaway ride. Arrow Video does remarkable service to John Milius' directorial debut with a rich, newly transferred HD presentation and a strong stable of supplements that highlights the contributions of those behind the lens. No one did it quite like Dillinger as Arrow Video’s capture and appreciation of this underrated AIP effort further cements its status.
Available now from Arrow Video, Dillinger can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.