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MGM Studios DVD presents
"Don't nobody get nervous. You ain't got nothin' to fear. You're bein' robbed by the John Dillinger Gang, that's the best there is. These few dollars you lose here today, they're gonna buy you stories to tell your children and great-grandchildren. This could be one of the big moments in your life. Don't make it your last."
DVD ReviewOne of the more prestigious productions to come out of exploitation-oriented American-International Pictures was the 1973 Dillinger, starring Warren Oates as the notorious gangster, written and directed by John Milius. Based on the true story of John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who tracked him down (played by Ben Johnson), the film features a stellar cast with a few Academy Awards among them—Harry Dean Stanton, Cloris Leachman, Geoffrey Lewis and Richard Dreyfuss are all featured players.
Oates makes a fine Dillinger, capturing the combination of cockiness, good looks and almost-quaint gentlemanliness that made him a folk hero during the Depression. Michelle Phillips is touching but underutilized as Billie Frechette, a prostitute virtually kidnapped by Dillinger who falls in love with him to her own detriment. Dillinger's gang is well-represented, with standout work by Dreyfuss as the irritable 'Baby Face' Nelson and Stanton as Homer Van Meter. And Cloris Leachman makes an impression as a Romanian madame, though she's onscreen in only two scenes, only one of which has dialogue. Director John Milius composes his shots well and has written credible dialogue for the characters, and subtitles in a "nostalgic" font set the tone well. The film's production values are also impressive, with period cars, sets and costuming well-executed, though there appears to be a 70's vest in one store window.
Unfortunately, Dillinger suffers from the predictability never completely avoidable in these kinds of movies, falling prey to a story that marches rigidly from point A to point B. The characters are well-drawn and the performances are uniformly solid, but the film never gathers much steam—Dillinger and his gang rob various banks with varying degrees of success and collateral damage, then commit a minor Federal infraction, enabling the Javert-esque "G-Man" Purvis to begin hunting the gang down, vowing to smoke a cigar over every member's dead body. The film's big shootout scenes are nicely handled but don't build up to much, and the film's point-of-view is oddly muddled at the end. Much of the film is narrated by Purvis, but there's a certain glorification of Dillinger-as-celebrity that doesn't seem to mesh with the character's point-of-view. It's one of those unfortunate cases where the whole is less than the sum of its parts—the film plays as a handful of memorable scenes strung together, rather than as a narrative whole. A lot of talent is on display, but it's not channeled as effectively as it might have been. Entertaining, but ephemeral, it's a noble failure in the final analysis.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: MGM continues its recent tradition of presenting their catalog of American-International Pictures with fine anamorphic DVD transfers. The source print in Dillinger's case isn't in stellar condition, with a significant level of grain and some print damage, mostly flecks, frame jumps and other momentary issues. The film has a generally soft look, with a subdued color palette, and flesh tones tend towards the red in some scenes. But the digital transfer looks fine, with good black levels, solid shadow detail, and few distracting compression artifacts despite the single-layer disc.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Dillinger is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic soundtrack. Music and dialogue are surprisingly clear and hiss-free, though there's some distortion and clipping during loud shootouts and no subwoofer-level bass to enhance the experience. A solid presentation of an audibly dated soundtrack; nothing to complain about.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 32 cues
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: MGM provides Dillinger with a minimal set of supplements picture-menu chapter stops, French and Spanish subtitles, and the film's original Theatrical Trailer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic transferred from a fairly grainy, somewhat faded source print. The trailer is interesting to watch, with a quick-cut approach that seems ahead of its time. But there's nothing here to address one's curiosity about the film's production or context, disappointing in this department.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsDillinger is a well-made, very well-acted but ultimately average film about the reign and downfall of John Dillinger and his renowned gang. MGM's DVD presents the film with a decent transfer, looking as good as can be expected given the film's age and status, though supplements are minimal. Recommended (on a rental basis anyway) for gangster and AIP enthusiasts.
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