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Warner Home Video presents
"No tag town jail can hold me. I'll be out before a month."
DVD ReviewMaybe it's the economics of filmmaking these days, or maybe it's the proliferation of seemingly infinite TV movies of the week, but the good old-fashioned pulpy B picture is a thing of the past, and that's a shame, because at their best, these were some great fun times at the movies. Dillinger exemplifies the spirit of those pictures—it's not a gangster picture of the first order, and was clearly made on the cheap; its running time is just over an hour, making it feel more like a ruthlessly efficient one-hour episode of a favorite series than like a full-boat feature. But it's bristling with style and energy, and in some respects its relative crudeness is the principal cause of its charm.
Lawrence Tierney plays the title role; today's audiences almost certainly know Tierney best from his role in Reservoir Dogs, and seeing him here as a younger man with even more ferocity is a treat. John Dillinger is one of the legendary figures in American crime; this isn't a grand telling of his life, but it's a classic crime movie in lots of ways. The chain of events is clear: Dillinger's poverty leads to desperation, which leads to crime, which leads to prison. John's bunkie on his first pull is Specs Green, a notorious bank robber; Dillinger inures himself to Specs and his boys, and when John is the first of them released, his principal order of business is busting his buddies out of the big house. The movie doesn't much go in for psychology, or for providing motivation; John is a bad apple, but the movie has a pulpy power in telling his story.
Of course there's a necessary love interest: Helen (Anne Jeffreys) becomes the requisite gun moll after Dillinger holds up the movie theater box office where she sells tickets. John battles Specs for leadership of the gang, whose members are reasonably well etched; the most memorable of them is surely Elisha Cook Jr., with his nasty habit of eating grapes by the fistful and spitting seeds wherever he pleases. The greatest piece of Dillinger lore concerns one of his jailbreaks, and it's done well here: he whittles a piece of wood into a makeshift gun, and darkens it with shoe polish, and it works. You can see that the budget was low; the best evidence of this may be the absurdly fake moustache that Tierney sports in the last part of the movie. But by then he and the boys are working on the necessary final big heist, and the necessary and famous resolution of Dillinger's story, outside of the Biograph in Chicago, makes for an abrupt and powerful final sequence. It's far from the best picture of its kind you'll ever see, but truly, they don't make ‘em like they used to.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The film wasn't made on the highest technical level, and it surely wasn't shown much TLC over the years, and unsurprisingly, it shows. The print here is full of scratches and nicks, acid burn and tears; the matte shots are laughable, and the transfer does reasonably well on the gray scale, but there's not much you can do when you're dealt this bad a hand.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Lots of scratching and unpleasant dynamics here; it can be a tough listen, but the dialogue is usually audible.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Milius and Philip Yordan
Extras Review: Professional tough guy John Milius, who directed his own version of Dillinger's story, sits for a commentary track, though he dismisses the notion that this movie had any influence on his; there are lots of blank patches, and Milius doesn't seem to be all that well informed about this earlier movie, so he provides lots of speculation about what the circumstances of production might have been like, along with his own ruminations on film noir. Intercut with Milius are excerpts from an interview with the film's screenwriter, Philip Yordan, who died in 2003; he provides fond reminiscences of the project, and explains that the major studios had at this time become signatories to an agreement not to make gangster movies, for fear that violence was being glorified, explaining this project ending up at Monogram.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsThe technical values are very low and the extras aren't much, but there's an almost primitive power to some of the filmmaking here; Tierney gives a great performance in the title role, and the propulsive energy of the picture never lags during its relatively short running time.
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