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Film / Dillinger (1945)

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Dillinger is a 1945 film directed by Max Nosseck. It is about—guess who?—yep, notorious gangster John Dillinger (Lawrence Tierney).

After a brief prologue the story picks up Dillinger as a nascent criminal who gets arrested for sticking up a grocery store. He gets out of jail, but not before making the acquaintance of a host of professional crooks, including "Specs" Green (Edmund Lowe) and Kirk Otto (Elisha Cook Jr.). He manages to beat the rap for holding up a theater when Helen (Anne Jeffreys), the ticket seller whom he robbed, refuses to ID him; Helen then becomes his moll. Dillinger then succeeds in breaking Green, Otto, and his other friends out of jail, and the gang, led by Green, go on a series of spectacular bank robberies. However, Dillinger doesn't like being second-in-command...

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Dillinger was made by Monogram Pictures, a cheapo B-Movie "Poverty Row" outfit that was best known for things like Bomba, the Jungle Boy. This picture, which was several cuts above typical Monogram fare in both budget and talent involved, shocked everyone by getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Compare the 1973 film Dillinger and the 2009 Johnny Depp vehicle Public Enemies, both of which portray Dillinger in a less negative light.


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Tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Dillinger escapes from prison only to find Helen now canoodling with another hoodlum named Tommy.
  • Battle in the Rain: A big action sequence where the Dillinger gang uses smoke bombs to ambush and rob an armored car outside the bank takes place in the pouring rain.
  • Blatant Lies: Dillinger lies his ass off to Green, claiming that he "shot it out with the cops" but was taken because he was outnumbered "20 to 1." In fact Dillinger was arrested by a single beat cop after sticking up a pharmacy for $7.20.
  • Call-Back: Early in the film Dillinger is humiliated by a waiter when Dillinger can't pay cash for drinks and the waiter won't take a check. Later, when he's got a big fat roll of money from knocking over banks, Dillinger seeks out the waiter again and murders him.
  • Death Glare: Dillinger excels at delivering these, and they're usually followed by Dillinger delivering actual death. Notable examples are when he catches Mr. and Mrs. Otto trying to call the police and when he confronts Specs, who betrayed him to the police.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "Extra, paper, Dillinger captured!" Specs buys a paper and reads the story with a look of satisfaction.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used for the worst violence. The camera cuts to a POV shot so we don't see the effect of Dillinger shoving a shattered beer bottle into the face of a waiter, and it cuts to a different scene just as Dillinger picks up the axe that he presumably buries in Tommy's back or head.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Dillinger gets this big time, being portrayed as an Ax-Crazy psychopath who kills not only lawmen but civilians and members of his own gang, whereas the real Dillinger is only known to have killed one person, Police Officer William O'Malley, during a bank robbery at East Chicago, Indiana.
  • How We Got Here: Opens with a newsreel reporting a Dillinger gang robbery, then has Dillinger's father come out to address the audience in the movie theater. Then the setting jumps back to show the beginning of Dillinger's life of crime.
  • Impairment Shot: Dillinger is getting a fateful of ether at the dentist when he realizes that something isn't right and tries to rise from his chair. The dentist's diploma swims in his vision. It turns out the cops, tipped off by Specs, have arrived to arrest him.
  • Match Cut: From one of the gang members holding a shotgun that Dillinger has smuggled into the prison, to a gang member holding that same shotgun as the gang robs a bank.
  • Organ Grinder: An organ grinder and his monkey are seen as Dillinger and Helen make the fatal trip to the Biograph.
  • Pretty in Mink: Dillinger makes a point out of dressing Helen up in minks and finery after he has success robbing banks.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Dillinger shoots right at the camera during a Time Passes Montage.
  • Spinning Paper: We see newspapers during the Time Passes Montages, dramatizing the career of the gang.
  • The Starscream: Dillinger, who supplants Specs Green as leader of the gang through sheer willpower and aggression. Specs doesn't like this, which is what eventually gets him killed.
  • Stock Footage: One of the bank robberies uses footage from Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once.
  • Time Passes Montage: There are two montages of the Dillinger gang robbing banks, one when Specs Green is in charge and one later after Dillinger has murdered Green and taken over.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The piano player doesn't break rhythm and can hardly be bothered to glance over when Dillinger shatters a beer bottle and shoves it into a waiter's face.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Bears little resemblance to the real John Dillinger's life, other than the bit about escaping from prison with a fake gun (in this movie it's carved from wood, while the real Dillinger is said to have used a potato) and the end where he's murdered by the FBI outside the Biograph Theater. Oddly, the film shows Dillinger and his gang at the Little Bohemia lodge but does not show the bloodbath of a failed FBI raid that took place in Real Life; in the movie Dillinger sneaks out before the cops arrive and what's left of his gang surrenders peacefully.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Of Dillinger all over Chicago. He actually has one decorating the little apartment where he's holed up. The $15,000 reward is what motivates his girlfriend Helen to betray him to the police.
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