HERO VERSUS VILLAIN AND VICE VERSA
A Video Review of "Dillinger" (1973)
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Written and directed by John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Farewell to the King), this is a tribute to the anti-hero. Milius obviously studied Peckinpah (or at least Bonnie and Clyde) because his style of cinematic violence is the flavor of the flick. It's subtle but always in your face. Dillinger is also interspersed with odd romantic vignettes and country music videos using black and white stills. Some work, some don’t.
Highlighted by the flawless acting of the late Warren Oates in the title role we see John Dillinger portrayed as a hero of the people, likable, popular and not the murdering criminal he really was. Warren Oates does Dillinger with the same down home flair of Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhoads in the classic A Face in the Crowd. This is Oates’ finest performance. It’s sad we lost him so young.
Ben Johnson is thrust into the ironically villainous role of G-man Melvin Purvis. If John Dillinger is the hero of the piece Purvis is surely the bad guy. Johnson plays his part with quiet cool and confidence, unperturbed by Dillinger’s violence and close calls. He knows he will win.
Richard Dreyfus is quite amusing as the obnoxious brat ‘Babyface’ Nelson. His clashes with Oates are priceless. When I see Dreyfus here and in things like Jaws, it occurs to me that he does a lot of phoning in performances, because here is solid proof he can actually act. Michelle Phillips is adequate. Harry Dean Stanton is superb. Also look for Cloris Leachman as the notorious lady in red.
Despite the lack of fact it's a great movie. It’s one of the best of the new wave Depression era gangster films. Check it out.
The above previously appeared in a much shorter form at Project Popcorn.
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