There are numerous film adaptations, telling the story of John Dillinger, one of America’s most notorious bank robbers and gangsters of the pre-FBI Hoover era. In 1973, director John Milius tackled the subject matter in a furious movie that packed crime, action and explosive shoot-outs together at a rabid pace. A mix between "Little Cesar" and "Bonnie & Clyde," "Dillinger" is a retelling the story of the real-life gangster in an authentic way, but without getting entirely bogged down in historical facts, as many of the events surrounding Dillinger’s death and the workings of the Bureau of Investigation have never been clearly accounted for. MGM Home Entertainment now sends "Dillinger" your way on a DVD release that will give you the chance to relive some of the most riveting antics of America’s Public Enemy Number One during 1933 and 1934.
John Dillinger (Warren Oates) and his gang are on a robbing spree, holding up banks across the Midwest. One day they rob the First National Bank in Chicago when they are unexpectedly facing overwhelming odds in the shape of police officers. Killing several of them, they manage to escape, but G-Man Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), an agent of the Bureau of Investigation, which would later become the FBI, sets his sights firmly on Dillinger, determined to bring him down. But as a federal agent his hands are tied and he has to wait until Dillinger commits a federal crime.
While he keeps tracking down small-time gangsters in his inimitable way, G-Man Purvis always keeps an eye on Dillinger, following the trail of robberies he and his gang leave behind. In the meanwhile John and his crew keep robbing banks until one day Dillinger is actually caught, sentenced and imprisoned.
But John Dillinger didn’t earn his reputation for nothing and carving himself a wood pistol, Dillinger soon holds up his guards and escapes prison.
On his escape route he crosses various state lines, committing a federal crime, because of the car he is using. This is the moment when Melvin Purvis kicks back into action, the moment he has been waiting for. While Dillinger adds new faces to his gang, including the infamous Baby Face Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), Purvis is slowly closing in on them. A big shoot-out ensues in their holdout when the Bureau of Investigation mounts a full-scale ambush, but once again Dillinger manages to escape, and he is now openly declared Public Enemy Number One!
In the blaze of machine gun fire the movie conjures up the lawlessness of America’s 30s in a view that is both romanticized and at the same time staggeringly brutal. Stylized at times, unflinching at others, director John Milius hits just the right note to give "Dillinger" a sense of dread while keeping it highly entertaining with a wink. The story is told from the viewpoint of the gang, and quite humorously so. Without glossing over the actual events, the film nonetheless manages to create characters that are sympathetic and entertaining to observe. The script makes sure every one of the many characters in the film come off as immediately recognizable, thus making sure the viewer never loses track of the many faces, even in the heat of gunfire.
Warren Oates and Ben Johnson are the obvious stars of the show, both playing their characters with a lot of personality. Neither of them is entirely good or bad and both have their own shades of gray that make the characters believable. Supported by an incredible cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Kanaly and many others, "Dillinger" is a highly energetic and explosive film that glues your eyes to the screen. It is highly entertaining and is sprinkled with uniquely funny moments, as the characters develop.
MGM Home Entertainment presents "Dillinger" in a 16x9 transfer that restores the movie’s 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer is generally clean and mostly without defects, although the occasional speckle is included in the print. The image of "Dillinger" ranges from stable and well-defined to very grainy, depending on the shot. It is obvious that all shots involving opticals, such as burned in subtitles, show significantly more grain than the rest of the film. The transfer also appears rather soft and a bit "milky" at times. However, all of these elements increase the film’s credibility, and I am sure most of them have been purposely employed by the filmmakers to achieve the authenticity the film has. There are some minor color consistency problems with the film however and at times the picture has an unnatural bluish tinge that changes between single shots. Fleshtones also have a tendency to become overly reddish at times. Fortunately the compression is flawless and no signs of pixelation or other compression artifacts are visible anywhere during the presentation, leaving all the details in the image fully intact.
"Dillinger" comes with a monaural audio track that is presented in a 2-channel Dolby Digital mix. The audio is clean and free if blips or other problems and no background noise or hiss is audible. Given the age the film the frequency response is noticeably limited, resulting in an audio presentation that is harsh and thin sounding throughout. While this may also further the authenticity of the film, there were a number of instances where I felt a bass extension with sub-harmonics would have given the track substantially more punch.
Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable. While for the most part free if distortion, there is some sibilance audible on occasion.
Apart from the film’s theatrical trailer, which is also presented in 16x9 enhanced widescreen, there are no extras on the disc, not even cast and crew biographies which should generally be considered standard on all DVD releases.
While "Dillinger" still seriously lacks in the supplemental department, the video presentation of the film is a step in the right direction. With a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer, viewers can enjoy the atmospheric settings of the film in all their glory. Sadly MGM Home Entertainment has once again made the mistake of having the DVD’s opening MGM logo blaring in at an infernal volume, a problem that could be so easily corrected and yet appears on seemingly every DVD release by the studio. MGM Home Entertainment’s releases are a bit of a mixed bag. While some are very good, others are very poor. I am glad to report that "Dillinger" makes its DVD debut in the upper range of the spectrum with a clean and clear presentation, albeit still a little weak on the extras.