Given his penchant for myth making, the historical facts depicted in director/screenwriter John Milius’ “Dillinger” are dubious at best, but who cares? This is a rattling good tale of gangsterism in the golden Warner Bros. tradition with the additional trappings of widescreen, color and the complete expulsion of The Production Code.
Warren Oates, that most underrated of actors, is a dead-ringer for Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger, though the film is a dual story, spending almost an equal amount of time following the exploits of super G-Man Melvin Purvis in his relentless pursuit of Dillinger’s gang as well as several other notorious criminal miscreants throughout the Depression era Midwest; with each episode of capture or kill enacted with wit, style, impressive irony (not a small achievement, that) and more than a small dram of visceral excitement. Ben Johnson is winning as the invincible, incorruptible Purvis and his cat-and-mouse tightening of the screws while in eventual pursuit of Dillinger’s gang is played with a calm civility unique in gangster films. Purvis knows he’s going to get his man, but until he does why not tweak and scold him as would a disciplining parent with a bratty child?
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