Dillinger (1945)

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*. “Introducing” Lawrence Tierney, at least in a starring role (he’d appeared in a couple of movies before this in minor parts). For such a limited actor he had a surprisingly long career, even appearing as the gruff mob boss Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs nearly fifty years later. I don’t think he’s any good at all in this film. I don’t mind that he doesn’t look like the real Dillinger; the movie plays so fast and loose with the historical record that Dillinger might have been played by Cagney or Robinson without any harm. But there’s just no charm or charisma to Tierney — qualities Dillinger was known for and which are of assistance to a leading man.
*. More on this Explaining the career of Tierney isn’t easy. He wasn’t much of an actor, mainly looking stiff and mean. Apparently he was very difficult to get along with, and he and director Max Nosseck hated each other. He was so nervous they had to have a portable washroom unit on the set because he had to go so often. He was also a heavy drinker. And yet he lasted forever in and around Hollywood.
*. Two odd conventions of the gangster film show up again. I say “odd” because they’re not entirely historical or biographical but nevertheless became part of gangster mythology. The first of these is the way the ambitious young gangster has to climb the rungs of power, finally knocking off his own boss. We see Dillinger doing that to “Specs” Green here. The second convention is the moll who sours on the hero and takes up with one of his second bananas (in this case Helen leaving Dillinger for Tony). Taken together, the two conventions have the quality of a kind of fertility ritual being acted out. But that’s the way history transforms into myth: facts are simplified into archetypes.

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*. These are Hollywood bank robberies. In real life, Dillinger’s heists were more straightforward affairs. He never tried to rob a train either. Speaking of which, what exactly happens during the train robbery? It’s like they forgot to film all of it or something. There are no good action sequences in this flick.
*. What a weird opening. Why have Dillinger’s father introduce the movie? Especially as we never return to him later. What’s going on?
*. It couldn’t have taken Tierney six months to grow that fake moustache, could it?
*. They should have given one of the other gang members the grapes to eat. Elisha Cook, Jr. is Elisha Cook, Jr. He doesn’t need a prop to sell a character.
*. It’s a lousy little movie. In the words of John Milius a “C-level picture” that is never very interesting (Milius made his own Dillinger movie in 1973 starring Warren Oates, who he naturally affirms made “a much, much better Dillinger”). And yet Philip Yordan was, remarkably, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, which is something I can’t get my head around. It’s them crickets, I tell ya! Them crickets!

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