1933: Franklin Roosevelt takes the office of President of the United States, the country is mired in the greatest economic calamity in living memory, and millions are out of work. From this atmosphere of anger at The Man emerges one of the most legendary criminals of all time: bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). Dillinger and his gang of outlaws become antiheroes for much of the disgruntled public.The film opens with Dillinger and his best friend John "Red" Hamilton breaking a group of allies out of Indiana's state penitentiary. But the recently-established FBI, headed by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), is on the case, hungry for publicity in order to win over skeptical voices in Congress. Special Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is assigned to track down Dillinger. Dillinger, meanwhile, takes time out of his busy schedule to romance a hatcheck girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).Director Michael Mann's newest movie returns once again to the crime genre that he so loves (Manhunter, Heat, Collateral), though also being, obviously, another of his period pieces (The Last of the Mohicans, Ali). The film is based on the novel Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 by Bryan Borrough, which covers all of the major bank robber gangs active from 1933 to 1936 and the FBI's work to stop them, including Dillinger, the Barker-Karpis gang, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Tropes illustrated by the film include:
All There in the Manual/All There in the Script: The screenplay gives numerous characters, even bit part ones, names, even if they aren't mentioned on screen: these include the cops at the first bank robbery, the names of those who get shot in the third bank robbery, and others. The source historical novel also helps describe some of the unnamed characters. For example, the motorcycle cop gunned down by Nelson at the third bank robbery is named Hale Keith (and this little part actually did happen).
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Almost all of the gang members had girlfriends. Dillinger first has Billie Frechette, and then after Billie's arrest, a waitress named Polly Hamilton.
Affably Evil: Dillinger is handsome, charming, and won't hesitate to smash your face against a hard surface if you stand between him and something he wants, like Billie Frechette.
Artistic License: Though the film is arguably one of the more accurate adaptations of this period, it still takes some liberties. A lot of stuff below will explain it.
Badass Longcoat: Most of the characters in the film wear one. Especially Dillinger and his gang during the bank robberies, to conceal their guns.
Black and Grey Morality: Dillinger and his gang are criminals; J. Edgar Hoover is, well, J. Edgar Hoover (tough as nails), and some of his men are violently thuggish - especially Harold Reinecke.
Chewbacca Defense: Dillinger's lawyer manages to keep him out of the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City by saying that Sheriff Lillian Holley is a woman, and therefore afraid that she can't keep him locked up in minimum security, because she's a woman. "I'm not afraid!" Judge William Murray immediately concludes that means she thinks Dillinger should stay in Crown Point. Court adjourned. Dillinger can now carve the wooden pistol and escape with ease.
It's worth noting that the exchange between Dillinger's lawyer and Sheriff Lillian Holley is mostly verbatim of the real court transcript (although for comparison some of the dialogue in the transcripts was omitted, like Piquett objecting to the presence of men armed with submachine guns in the court room after petitioning for Dillinger's shackles to be removed). Of course, whether Dillinger really carved the wooden pistol himself or had it smuggled in is unknown. Some say that Louis Piquett or Art O'Leary smuggled it into the prison instead. It could even have been Martin Zarkovich who smuggled the wooden gun in, evidenced by the fact that he visited Dillinger at least once. (On a side note, a few people, like Matt Leach, allege that Zarkovich had been responsible for sheltering Dillinger at times (he was never charged, given he was a participant in Dillinger's death).
Convenient Slow Dance: "Bye Bye Blackbird" comes just at the right moment. For both John and Billie, the song will remain a cherished memory.
Deadpan Snarker: Two films were playing the night Dillinger was killed: "Manhattan Melodrama", and a Shirley Temple movie. One of the agents remarks: "Dillinger ain't goin' to no Shirley Temple picture."
Dillinger doesn't want to get into the kidnapping business, as he expresses when Karpis mentions the upcoming kidnapping of Edward Bremer. Two dasys after Dillinger robbed a bank in East Chicago, Karpis actually did pull the job.
Dillinger is also disgusted by Baby Face Nelson's trigger happy and murderous nature. This is Truth in Television for the real John Dillinger.
Font Anachronism: As John Dillinger and his associates leave the red train car, the car number seen on the outside of the car is in the Helvetica font, which was not created until 1957. The film takes place in 1933, a couple decades too early for Helvetica.
Red Hamilton thinks at Little Bohemia that his time is up hours before he is fatally wounded in the shootout. The real John Hamilton was also fatalistic in his last weeks leading up to Little Bohemia. One of the last things he did before going to Little Bohemia was Dillinger took Hamilton to his sister Anna Steve in Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
Genre Blind: At several times, the Bureau demonstrates this. For instance, in the Sharone Apartment shootout, rather than position their cars to box in the suspected gangsters' car, Baum is keeping watch from some distance away. Bear in mind, they may have expected the gang members might shoot at them with automatics, so they would have wanted to be out of the line of fire if shooting did happen.
Genre Savvy: Charles Winstead's knowledge of tropes is what leads them to finally kill Dillinger, with Winstead firing the fatal shot to the back of the head.
Guns Akimbo: Dilliger uses two pistols when holding up banks. One to aim at the manager unlocking the safe, another to control the people in the lobby. Never shoots with them, though. It's in the second bank robbery. In the first robbery, he trains his pistol on the bank manager while holding his Thompson in the other hand.
Also seen when Dillinger and Red come into Frank Nitti's Outfit. Red is brandishing twin Tommy Guns on lanyards, for god's sake!
Also, the actual John Dillinger wasn't nearly as comely as Johnny Depp (generally the case when Johnny Depp portrays a real-life person.)
Hollywood History: For a movie directly based on a non-fiction book, they twist around events and people quite a bit, or cut things out.
A minor point is that Dillinger dies after Pretty Boy Floyd, Homer Van Meter, and Baby Face Nelson in the film, whereas in Real Life he died first: Van Meter was shot to death by police in St. Paul that August. Floyd was gunned down October 22, 1934 in East Liverpool, Ohio, and Nelson died in a shootout on November 27, 1934 in Barrington, Illinois that also led to.
Floyd, too, was allegedly shot after being disarmed, though this is a more controversial account given by a local police officer. The Feds were actually worse in reality than they were in the movie (though Purvis himself was perhaps a bit better here than he was in real life - in this film, Purvis shoots down Nelson, Floyd, and Van Meter - the former two were killed in shootings that happened without Purvis, and Van Meter was killed by St. Paul police). The account that Mann seems to use is the FBI account, which states that Floyd was shot by a sniper from a great distance (although the real shooting happened on an open field, not in an apple orchard). Here, the film gives that role to Purvis. The film also uses the real Purvis's claim that he kicked a pistol out of Floyd's hand.
According to Bryan Borrough's book, the escapees took the guards hostage with the guns, then paraded them into the administration building, while fooling the tower guards into thinking that the prisoners were just being escorted by the day captain. Four of them escaped by taking a visiting sheriff hostage in his car, while Pete Pierpont and his group stole a car from a gas station across the street. Only a clerk was injured, shot in the leg. There was none of the mass bloodshed shown in the movie.
More problematic is that John "Red" Hamilton is shown out of jail and helps Dillinger with the Trojan Prisoner breakout. Hamilton was actually one of the inmates who escaped - and the only one of them who never got recaptured before his death in April of 1934.
Dillinger shoots down three people in the film (two plainclothes detectives in the Racine robbery, and a police officer in the Sioux Falls robbery), but in truth the only person he is believed to have killed is William O'Malley, a police officer shot and killed on January 15, 1934 when Dillinger and Hamilton held up the First National Bank of East Chicago, Indiana. It was that officer's murder that Dillinger was standing trial for in Indiana.
Billie Frechette's arrest happens after the shootout at Little Bohemia Lodge. In reality it was the opposite. Part of the reason the Dillinger gang went to Little Bohemia was in part to allow Dillinger to take his mind off Billie.
Little Bohemia is shown as being used by the gang as a hideout after a disastrous bank robbery in Sioux Falls, completely skipping over the gang's robbery of the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa on March 13; Dillinger, Billie and Van Meter's narrow escape from police in St. Paul on April 1st; and a visit to Hamilton's sister Anna Steve a few days before Little Bohemia.
Purvis and his men are pursuing Dillinger in the first half of the film. In reality, the most the FBI did insofar as get involved in the Dillinger manhunt was attend a number of conferences and offer to help in fingerprinting; following the death of Sheriff Sarber, Hoover actually ignored pleas from Indiana governor Paul McNutt for the FBI's help. So in this time period, responsibility for pursuing the Dillinger gang fell to the Indiana State Police.
Hoover announces to reporters Purvis's assignment to the Chicago field office, saying "his task will be to get Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger." This is a scene happening in late 1933 - Dillinger wasn't named Public Enemy No. 1 until his 31st birthday on June 22, 1934.
Additionally, Purvis had been SAC of the Chicago field office for several months when Dillinger first began robbing banks.
A botched attempt to arrest a criminal happens at the Sherone Apartments building. In the film, the criminal who escapes is Baby Face Nelson with Tommy Carroll. In real life, a bungled FBI attempt to capture Verne Miller, who was wanted for the Kansas City Massacre in June 1933, happened at this apartment building on November 1, 1933.
The Sioux Falls robbery.
Nelson gunning a motorcycle cop through a window with a submachine gun, then cackling, "I GOT ONE!" is true, according to FBI files. However, the robbery appears to be a composite of the Sioux Falls robbery and two of Dillinger's bank robberies that followed later in 1934:
Dillinger gets shot in the shoulder, which actually happened a week after the Sioux Falls robbery, when the gang robbed the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa. Also taken from the actual Mason City robbery is the gang getting less than they were expecting. When told about the job by Tommy Carroll, Dillinger is told that the bank they'll hit may net them six figures. In the real Sioux Falls robbery, the gang only netted $46,000 (which is how much they count in the film). Them expecting more money than they really got went to the Mason City robbery - they knew there was about $250,000 in that bank's vault, but they netted only about 1/5th of that much as a result of Hamilton being stalled by an intelligent bank manager.
During the shootout, a bit happens where a boy jumps on Nelson's back and struggles with him for a few moments before Nelson throws him off, shattering a window. Such an incident did happen with Nelson, but it was actually during the gang's robbery of the Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana on June 30, 1934.
In Medias Res: The film opens with Dillinger and Red staging a jailbreak
First is Baby Face Nelson's death: Purvis fires a single shot with his pistol and another agent, Madala, fires a shotgun at the same time. Both bullets hit Nelson in the chest. He falls over, but gets back up on his knees and manages to fire a wild burst with his submachine gun despite being badly wounded and more bullets entering his body. Purvis fires at least twelve more rounds with his pistol before Nelson dies permanently (which has something to do with actual police procedure).
In his real shootout on November 27, 1934 in Barrington, Illinois against Agents Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis (both of whom were mortally wounded), Nelson refused to fall despite having been struck a total of seventeen times (Hollis shot him ten times in his legs with a shotgun, and Cowley shot him seven times with a submachine gun). This is attributed to adrenaline surging through his body - which kept Nelson alive for approximately three hours before he succumbed to his wounds. And the bullets that felled Cowley and Hollis were fired after Nelson had been really shot up.
Dillinger is shown living long enough to whisper something to Winstead after he is shot, before he dies. In the actual death, many reported that a few minutes passed between when Dillinger was shot and when he took his last breath.
Played straight with Homer Van Meter, who is raked up with a submachine gun and dies instantly. The number of bullets entering his body might have something to do with this.
The cops refuse to let a doctor tend to Tommy Carroll, who has been shot in the head, with a bullet resting above his right eye, while torturing him for Dillinger's hideout.
However, it is worth noting that Tommy Carroll had not ever been tortured for information. He really died on June 7, when he was shot by a Waterloo police detective acting on a filling station attendant's tip about a "tough customer". In fact, a different Dillinger gang member, Eddie Green, received the gunshot wound that Carroll receives in the movie (bullet entering the back of his head and coming to a rest above the right eye) when he was ambushed by police in St. Paul in early April.
And then we see Frechette being slapped multiple times while being interrogated by Harold Reinecke.
Although it is Truth in Television that the FBI did use the "third degree" interrogation method on a few prisoners, Billie Frechette PROBABLY was not one of them. However, there were two other prisoners, Dick Galatas (wanted for his role in the Kansas City Massacre conspiracy) and Dock Barker, who allegedly got the third degree.
Truth in Television: Melvin Purvis's secretary Doris Rogers said that agents who tried physical torture got very little information for the pain they inflicted on prisoners. The senior men got those who attempted this back in line.
Jitter Cam: Used throughout the film, most prominently in the gunfights.
Just Train Wrong: The producers decided to show a train arriving in Chicago Union Station carrying Agent Charles Winstead, Jerry Campbell and Clarence Hurt. While Milwaukee Road #261 and its cars in their orange and maroon livery could be reasonably explained, the locomotive is anachronistic to the late 1933-early 1934 setting of the scene. Alco did not build that particular locomotive until 1944.
Kangaroo Court: Right after we see the Dillinger gang carry out a bank robbery, we are introduced to BOI director J. Edgar Hoover, who is in a committee hearing seeking the doubling of his agency's budget. Unfortunately, the man in charge of the committee, Tennessee Senator Kenneth McKellar, is a big Hoover-hater (which was true, according to the book the film took most of its source material from). McKellar humiliates Hoover into admitting that he has not participated in the arrests of any of the over 213 wanted felons that the BOI has either captured or killed, much less been a participant in the investigations around them. Hoover gets frustrated enough that he says, "Well I will not be judged by a kangaroo court of venal politicians!"
Last Breath Bullet: Nelson's death in the film. He manages to mortally wound one agent right before Purvis and Madala empty their weapons into him.
Manly Tears: Dillinger when he witnesses Billie getting captured. Whether or not this is reality is unclear, although it is true that Dillinger was distraught afterwards, so much that the rest of the gang (even Nelson) had to discourage him from attempting to rescue Billie, although the Friday after the arrest, Dillinger and Van Meter raided an arsenal in Warsaw, Indiana and made off with several weapons and bulletproof vests.
Moral Dissonance: The G-Mens' deduction methods include torturing a man dying in a hospital and beating up women. These agents would have been fired for this in the 21st century, and more than likely face hefty police brutality lawsuits.
More Dakka: Everybody's got submachine guns, and boy do they use them (killing surprisingly few people in the process).
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Lowell Thomas, the radio commentator, mentions how we have Dillinger's instigation to thank for the tougher laws against interstate crime, and the gambling syndicate has this as a sarcastic reaction, since now the heat will be on their tidy coast-to-coast operation.
And Dillinger was actually responsible for the passing of a number of bills. Nelson's shooting of Agent Carter Baum at Little Bohemia made killing a federal agent a federal offense, something Hoover had been lobbying for years to get passed.
Pistol-Whipping: Dillinger does this when the bank manager in the first robbery appears to be stalling.
Retired Badass: Sort of; Purvis concludes that his crew of young, educated types aren't up to the task of catching Dillinger or other bank robbers, and insists on bringing in a group of hardened oldsters from Texas and Oklahoma, much to Hoover's annoyance, since those are just the kind of guys he wants to get away from using.
Truth in Television - The "College Boys" (as they were sarcastically nicknamed by local police departments) sucked when it came to engaging or capturing fugitives - as evidenced by the fact that four times in as many weeks in April 1934, agents came within feet of Dillinger but he managed to escape from them. To elaborate:
The first was in St. Paul on April 1, when FBI Agents Rufus Coulter and Rusty Nalls, and St. Paul Police Detective Henry Cummings stopped by an apartent Billie and Dillinger were living in, responding to a suspicious persons complaint. Billie woke Dillinger up, and Dillinger quickly started assembling his gun. Van Meter also showed up and spotted the detectives. After heading downstairs to his car, Agent Coulter followed him. When he got to the basement stairs, Van Meter opened fire on him and he ran for the car. Dillinger fired a burst at Cummings upstairs. Once the police were incapacitated, Dillinger, Billie and Van Meter escaped out an unguarded door.
A week later, near Dillinger's father's farm in Mooresville, Indiana, an FBI car drove right by Dillinger and neither agent in the car recognized him.
The third time was Billie Frechette's capture, where agents walked mere feet from Dillinger as he sat in the car. He ultimately drove away without being seen. It was much like shown in the movie, except that Purvis was also present and actually realized too late that Dillinger had been in the car Billie arrived in.
Little Bohemia was the fourth encounter, and the last straw. These incidents were the reason Hoover ordered men like Charles Winstead, Jerry Campbell, Clarence Hurt, and Herman Hollis to Chicago, for their marksmanship.
Red Right Hand: Hamilton lost two fingers on his right hand in a childhood sledding accident. Part of another finger on that hand was shot off in the East Chicago bank robbery. However, CGI was not used in the film, so Jason Clarke has all ten digits on when his character only had seven.
Retirony: Subverted, though, in that Dillinger is not killed in the middle of his last big score, but gunned down by the police on the night before; of course, that's what actually happened. Indeed, Dillinger was planning a train robbery with Nelson and Van Meter when he was killed.
Shown Their Work: Dillinger's death scene, right down to the location and the path of the bullets that kill him, specifically, the fatal bullet - fired by Winstead from close range. It entered Dillinger through the back of his head, severed his spinal cord, tore through his brain, and exited out the front of his forehead above his right eye. They even redressed a few blocks of street to recreate the 1934 atmosphere of the Biograph. A different theater was used to represent the Biograph's interior, however.
Although Nelson was not actually killed at Little Bohemia, the fact that he stood up and continued firing even after being shot more than ten times was true, although in the actual case, the agents whose bullets felled Nelson - Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis - were both mortally wounded.
The producers, several times, tried as much as they could to film on-location. Crown Point Jail, and Little Bohemia Lodge are all the real deal here. At Little Bohemia, you can even see the old bullet holes from the shootout.
The dialogue Louis Piquett gives to Judge William Murray at Dillinger's arraignment hearing was taken almost verbatim from the actual court transcripts.
Dillinger escaped from Crown Point with a wooden pistol. Though the escape did not go down quite as the film shows it, it was similar and was done on location. He also warbled the chorus to "The Last Roundup" while driving west into Illinois, according to the statements of everyone who got taken hostage.
Based on a comparison between film dialogue and material mentioned in Bryan Borrough's book, there is a good amount of dialogue that was taken from the book or from the FBI files.
However, the dialogue is not always consistent with when it actually happened: in the Racine bank robbery (the first one, and the only one we see in full (as we only see the start of the second robbery and join the third robbery midway through its execution)), Dillinger says to the bank manager, "You can be a dead hero or a live coward," after Pistol-Whipping him. The source book shows that Dillinger actually said it during the escape from Crown Point.
Likewise, in the Racine bank robbery, Dillinger notises a customer's loose cash and says, "You can put it away. I'm not here for your money; I'm here for the bank's money." He did say this, but newspapers from the period claim that Dillinger said this during his January 15, 1934 robbery of the First National Bank in East Chicago.
The "I'm gonna give it to you high and give it to you low!" line that Nelson gives when shooting Agent Baum and stealing his car at Little Bohemia comes from FBI files as something he said when ambushing Baum and Agent Jay Newman at the local switchboard operator's house. However, he said it before he fired his pistol.
Steel Ear Drums: Played straight in that the bank manager taken hostage in the first bank robbery doesn't even flinch despite a Thompson submachine gun and a BAR assault rifle being fired simultaneously just feet from his head.
Also, in the Little Bohemia shootout, the gang members are firing their BA Rs, Thompson submachine guns, .351 Winchesters, and machine pistols through the windows. They should be permanently deafened by firing those weapons inside that confined space.
The Syndicate: Obviously. Frank Nitti's reluctance to help Dillinger is accurate, too. This contrasted him from Al Capone, who was known to provide protection to bank robbers and outlaws. Both the real Dillinger gang and the Barker-Karpis gang both were wary of who they established contact with because they knew that the heat brought on by the crimes they committed and their respective police manhunts could also risk a chance of causing police investigation into Syndicate activities.
Technology Marches On: Watch this film, then try to imagine how things would turn out if the police had radios, cell phones, radar, helicopters, K9 dogs, etc.
For the time period of the film, this was also present. Bank robbers were able to gain access to submachine guns and cars with reliable V8 engines more easily than any police department, so you could easily drive away while the sheriff was still crank-starting his old vehicle. Essentially, if a robber got away without being shot, there was little chance he would be caught.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Averted with Dillinger, who is hit four times with bullets from three semi-automatic pistols at close range, which is accurate. Played straight, though, when Purvis guns down Van Meter and Nelson in the field after the Little Bohemia shootout. Van Meter gets hit at least twenty or more times, raked up with submachine fire. Nelson gets one shotgun pellet and at least twelve bullets from Purvis's pistol.
Purvis continuing to shoot Nelson until Nelson drops dead is an actual police tactic - American police procedure dictates that the officer fire at the target repeatedly until the target falls, rather than fire one or two hits and let blood loss take over.
Van Meter's real life death at the hands of the St. Paul Police Department on August 23, 1934 was a lot uglier than you'd think: he was shot at least 51 times with pistols, and once with a shotgun. Some of his fingers were shot off as well. It was not pretty.
Nelson's actual death averted having an Instant Death Bullet scenario - he died three hours after being shot ten times in his legs with shotgun pellets and seven times in his torso and abdomen with a machine gun.
Too Dumb to Live: Many of Purvis's men, literally: Barton, the agent killed in the botched apartment raid, and then later Baum at Little Bohemia.
Train Job: Dillinger and company discuss one of these early on in the film with Alvin Karpis. They never get around to it, though, in Dillinger's time, but Karpis did actually go ahead and pull it about a year after Dillinger was killed.
Trigger Happy: Baby-Face Nelson. He was like this in real life too. For example, in the Sioux Falls robbery, both in the movie and in real life, Nelson, upon seeing a motorcycle cop named Hale Keith pulling up alongside the bank, leaped onto a low railing and let loose a deafening burst of gunfire through a plate glass window that severely wounded Officer Keith (struck four times in the chest), then screamed "I got one!" (then in the film, he cackles and fires another deafening burst into the ceiling, and bits of plaster rain down).
Though not seen in the film, there were similar incidents involving Nelson in the next two bank robberies that he pulled with Dillinger - the March 13th robbery of the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa; his escape from Little Bohemia after killing Agent Baum; and the June 30th robbery of the Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana.
Baum's real death could have been a Karmic Death - he was responsible for firing at the innocent civilians' car at Little Bohemia, leading to the gang's escape. He and another agent, Jay Newman, were checking on a suspicious car report at the house of nearby switchboard operator Alvin Koerner, where Nelson ambushed them. Newman was shot in the head, and wounded, while Baum was shot three times in the neck, and killed. A constable riding with them was also shot and wounded.
Trojan Prisoner: The jailbreak in the opening scene. Dillinger and Hamilton infiltrate the prison by making it look like a prison drop, with Dillinger as the "prisoner" and Hamilton as the "sheriff" that is "escorting" him. Once inside, when one of the guards recognizes him, Dillinger breaks his cuffs and he and Hamilton draw their guns.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Herbert Youngblood, the black inmate who assists Dillinger in his escape from Crown Point, is never seen again after they are shown driving through the open fields. He is never mentioned again, so the conclusion of his story is explained from a number of other books on Dillinger: Youngblood ended up in Huron, Michigan. Two weeks later, he caused a disturbance at a downtown store. Police responded. Reportedly, Youngblood managed to shoot one officer dead and wound another before being shot seven times. He died a few days after that. There were some racial tensions and allegations that a white man present at the scene may have been responsible for some of the shootings.
Likewise, we never see Pierpont and Makley after they and Dillinger are seen being arrested. In fact, no mention is made about them. In real life, after being arrested, Pierpont, Makley and Russell Clark were packed off to stand trial in Lima, Ohio for the murder of Sheriff Jess Sarber. When put on trial in mid-March 1934 (around the time of Dillinger's escape and his Sioux Falls and Mason City robberies), they were all convicted. Pierpont and Makley attempted to escape death row on September 22, 1934, two months after Dillinger's death, using fake guns carved from soap cakes and painted black with shoe polish. The attempt failed: Makley was killed and Pierpont was executed weeks later.
White Shirt of Death: Pretty Boy Floyd at the beginning, Homer Van Meter at the end of the Little Bohemia shootout and Dillinger himself at the end.
Would Hit a Girl: Harold Reinecke has a brutal interrogation of Billie Frechette. The real Dillinger reportedly almost considered assassinating him when rumors came out that something like this had happened.
We'll See About That: Dillinger says this to Purvis after being taunted that he'll never leave his jail cell until being removed for his execution in the electric chair. Though Purvis and Dillinger never actually spoke to each other, Dillinger did have multiple in-prison encounters with his original pursuer - Indiana State Police detective Matt Leach, who was somewhat more competent than the FBI in pursuing Dillinger.
You Must Be Cold: Dillinger does this twice: once to a hostage bank teller and once to Billie. Both times, he hands these girls coats. All of it is Truth in Television as this was considered one of Dillinger's more renowned trademarks. It helps contrast him from Baby Face Nelson (see the Sioux Falls robbery).
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Dillinger had several girlfriends. The first was Mary Longnaker, a woman he romanced during his first bank robbery spree in the summer of 1933, which ended with his arrest that September. After being broken out of Lima, Ohio, he met Billie Frechette. Months after Billie's arrest, he hooked up wiht Polly Hamilton. The other gang members also had girlfriends: Homer Van Meter's was Mickey Conforti, Red Hamilton had Patricia Cherrington, Russell Clark's was Cherrington's sister Opal Long, while Pete Pierpont had Mary Kinder. Nelson was the only gang member who was married and had a family.
Chewbacca Defense: Louis Piquett's defense at Dillinger's arraignment had shades of this. Piquett was able to keep Dillinger out of Michigan city by arguing that as Sheriff Lillian Holley was a woman, and therefore afraid that she couldn't keep Dillinger locked up in minimum security, because she was a woman. Judge William Murray immediately concurred with Piquett that Dillinger was to stay in Crown Point, making his escape much easier.
Epic Fail: Several of the attempts to capture Dillinger in all three parts of his criminal career counted as these. But the arrest of Billie Frechette had to be one of the most glaring ones, as agents literally came within less than ten feet of Dillinger and failed to recognize him while they were cuffing Billie. Then there was their botched attempt to capture the gang at Little Bohemia.
From Nobody to Nightmare: Dillinger started off as just an ordinary bank robber when his career began in June 1933. The most powerful weapons he used were pistols in his robberies. Then he was arrested, but beforehand he smuggled some pistols into the Indiana State Prison to break out his fellow comrades - Pierpont, Makley, Clark, and Hamilton. Once his prison friends escaped, some papers were Genre Savvy enough to connect them to some minor criminal sitting in a Dayton, Ohio jail cell. Then the escapees broke Dillinger out of Lima, Ohio, during which Pierpont shot and killed Lima sheriff Jess Sarber, and they soon became known as the "Terror Gang" by some, raiding two arsenals in the span of a week, and then using the weaponry they acquired to commit more bank robberies. In their first bank attack in Greencastle, they were so quiet and fast that the sheriff's office across the street didn't even know what was happening. In all four bank robberies robberies Dillinger committed after escaping Crown Point, at least one civilian was shot, and in three of them, a police officer was shot, one of them killed.
Genre Blind: From a read, the FBI expressed this trope for the entirity of its first few years. Little Bohemia was a glaring example: the FBI thought the gangsters were going to escape by car, and thought that they were pinned down inside the lodge when they heard no gunfire coming from inside (when in reality, this was because the gang had all managed to slip out the back windows while agents were ducking down to reload their weapons). They had no indication that the gang had escaped until two agents, Jay Newman and Carter Baum, were sent to the local switchboard operator, Alvin Koerner's house to check on a suspicious car report, where Baby Face Nelson ambushed and shot both of them. Baum was killed and Newman was shot in the head.
Genre Savvy: Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach, Dillinger's first pursuer, took the time to read up on criminal psychology, which is how he first caught on to Dillinger in the summer of 1933. He'd analyzed criminal patterns to determine how to track Dillinger's movements.
Guns Akimbo: Dillinger did carry both pistols and submachine guns in his robberies. In at least one robbery, he did wield twin pistols.
Idiot Ball: The real Special Agent Melvin Purvis may have had one melded to his hands. He and his men came so frequently within eye distance of Dillinger, only for Dillinger to get away because of some screwup on Purvis's behalf.
When capturing Billie Frechette in April 1934, agents were merely feet from getting Dillinger, who remained in the car (like in the movie). But with the agents thinking he was inside the tavern, Dillinger was able to get away untouched in the confusion.
The Little Bohemia raid would not have Gone Horribly Wrong if the agents had thought to completely surround the lodge on all four sides instead of just the side facing the road. They had assumed the gang members would escape by car, but as a result of the agents accidentally shooting innocent civilians, the gang just escaped out a second floor window and ran to the lake behind the lodge, then vanished. And Van Meter had made a mental map for reference when he arrived at the lodge.
Some other Purvis-era blunders included "forgetting" to capture Machine Gun Kelly, arresting the wrong men for the kidnapping of William Hamm (the kidnapping that Alvin Karpis and the Barkers had pulled off before Dillinger came to the scene). And more glaringly, in May 1934, accidentally screwing up a surveillance job, resulting in Baby Face Nelson reuniting with his wife.
That last one actually was the last straw for Hoover, who sent Samuel P. Cowley to take charge of the Chicago office. Of course, Cowley, despite being hardworking, also made a few blunders to start. The most glaring was taking surveillance off Van Meter's girlfriend Mickey Conforti, thinking he wouldn't go for her. Some days later, Van Meter managed to reunite with her.
Instant Death Bullet: Being it's about real life, it's averted. Homer Van Meter died instantly because he was shot up 50 times all at once. Dillinger lived at least two minutes after Winstead's bullet went through his head. Baby Face Nelson lived for three hours after being shot seventeen times by Cowley and Herman Hollis.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Amazingly enough, it is believed that the FBI did undergo this in the strain of hunting Dillinger as well as the Barkers and the other gangs. Jimmy Probasco, the man who owned a safehouse Dillinger underwent plastic surgery at in late May 1934, jumped from the FBI office's 19th floor to his death while he was unguarded, but some rumors say he was dangled by interrogating agents.
Meaningful Name: The Dillinger Gang was sometimes known as "the Terror Gang" primarily because it was comprised of escaped convicts toting pistols, automatic rifles, and Thompson submachine guns.
Missed Him by That Much: Several of the real attempts to capture Dillinger came out like this because by the time agents responded to a legitimate Dillinger sighting, Dillinger had already left the place. One of the most notable was an incident in April near Mooresville where two FBI agents saw Dillinger and drove right past him without recognizing him. Also, Billie Frechette's arrest counts because the agents came within literally less than 50 feet from Dillinger. But since they thought he was in inside, he was able to escape before they realized their error.
A week before the Mooresville encounter was another one in St. Paul. Two agents, Rusty Nalls and Rufus Coulter, had gone to an apartment Dillinger and Billie were hiding at, responding to a suspicious persons report. They never saw Dillinger, although they did get fired on by Van Meter.
Red Right Hand: Red Hamilton was sometimes known as "Three Fingered Jack" because he had lost two of his right fingers in a childhood sledding accident.