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Film / Public Enemies

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Public Enemies is a 2009 crime drama directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp as infamous criminal John Dillinger, who robbed numerous banks during The '30s and was pursued by Special Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).

Taking place in 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression, bank robber Dillinger (Depp) and his crew of outlaws emerge as infamous thieves, brazenly stealing money from banks and being considered antiheroes by much of the disgruntled public.

After Dillinger breaks a group of allies out of Indiana's state penitentiary, the recently-established FBI, headed by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), begins working on a case to take him down for good. Hungry for publicity in order to win over skeptical voices in Congress, Hoover assigns Purvis (Bale) to track down Dillinger. Meanwhile, Dillinger takes time out of his busy schedule to romance a hatcheck girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).


The film was based on the book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 by Bryan Burrough, 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.

Compare the 1973 film Dillinger or the 1945 film also called Dillinger, both of which have a far darker take on the notorious gangster.


This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Prologue: The opening scene is about the jailbreak out of Indiana's state penitentiary.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Burrough's book was about violent crime in the early 1930s, and Dillinger was just one of several criminals profiled, as mentioned above: while he receives a lot of attention, he's not especially prominent in the story line compared to the other figures. With the movie focusing on Dillinger (and Purvis, to a lesser extent), most of them are either excluded entirely (Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, the Barkers) or Demoted to Extra (Floyd, Karpis, Nelson). The movie also makes no reference to the Kansas City Massacre, which is the central event in the FBI's rise to prominence.
  • 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.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Dillinger himself at the end.
  • All There in the Manual: The source historical novel 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 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.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Almost all of the gang members had girlfriends. Dillinger first had Billie Frechette, and then after her arrest, a waitress named Polly Hamilton.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: During the Racine bank robbery, Dillinger, having noticed a customer put his cash on the counter, tells him "Put it away. I'm not here for your money, I'm here for the bank's money." While it makes a nice Shout-Out to Heat (also produced by Michael Mann), John Dillinger is reported to have said that to a customer while robbing the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, while some sources attribute it to a bank robbery in Greencastle, Indiana.
  • Anti-Hero: Unlike previous characterizations, Dillinger is portrayed as this instead of a Villain Protagonist. Actually, the Feds do understand why people sympathize with him.
  • Artistic License – History: Though the film is arguably one of the more accurate adaptations of this period, it still takes some liberties.
    • Some of the music featured is actually from the late 30s, such as swing music. And a Billie Holliday record is heard in one scene (Holliday would begin her career in 1935)
    • At one theater, we see a Looney Tunes cartoon playing, featuring Porky Pig, who didn't appear until 1935 (although considering that at the time of the film's setting, the studio's "star" was the long-forgotten Buddy...).
  • Badass Longcoat: Most of the characters in the film wear one. Dillinger and his gang wear them 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, to the point it veers on Black-and-Black Morality at times.
  • The Cameo: As is common in Michael Mann films, they're are plenty of recognizable faces popping up in minor or supporting roles that sometimes last little more than seconds.
    • Carey Mulligan as a prostitute.
    • Channing Tatum as bank robber Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd moments before he's shot and killed.
    • Diana Krall is seen singing "Bye Bye Blackbird" in one scene.
    • MMA legend Don Frye as FBI Agent Clarence Hunt, one of the men who shoots and kills Dillinger.
    • Giovanni Ribisi as Dillinger's contact Alvin Karpis.
    • Lili Taylor as Sheriff Lillian Holley, Dillinger's jailer.
    • Leelee Sobieski as Polly, the waitress whom accompanies Dillinger to the Biograph theater.
    • Matt Craven as FBI Agent Gerry Campbell.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Dillinger's shady defense lawyer Louis Piquett 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. Because of this, Dillinger is able to carve the wooden pistol and escape with ease.
  • Convenient Slow Dance: "Bye Bye Blackbird" comes just at the right moment. For both John and Billie, the song is a cherished memory.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Two films were playing at the neighborhood's theaters 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."
  • Death by Cameo: Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd.
  • Epic Fail:
    • Hoover reprimands Purvis over the phone for botching the attempt to capture Nelson, leading to Barton's death.
    • See Retired Badass for more on several real failed attempts to capture Dillinger.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Dillinger doesn't want to get into the kidnapping business, which he states when Karpis mentions the upcoming kidnapping of Edward Bremer. Two days 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.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • Dillinger and all his friends die.
    • 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 points, the Bureau demonstrates this. 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. This is with the expectation that the gangsters they're about to deal with might have Thompson submachine guns and won't be afraid to use them, so the agents want to be out of the line of fire.
  • Guns Akimbo: Dillinger often wields two pistols when holding up banks.
    • Also seen when Dillinger and Red come into Frank Nitti's outfit. Red is brandishing twin Tommy Guns on lanyards!
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: J. Edgar Hoover's introductory scene is testifying before the McKellar committee, trying to justify increased funding for the FBI. This actually happened in Real Life, but after the film's events.
  • Hero Antagonist: Melvin Purvis and J. Edgar Hoover.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The summary of Purvis' story arc. You can clearly see in Bale's performance each time he compromises his values for the sake of getting the job done.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Branka Katic and the woman she played, Anna Sage (real name Ana Campanas), the "Lady in Red".
    • The actual John Dillinger wasn't nearly as comely as Johnny Depp (generally the case when Johnny Depp portrays a real-life person.)
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: While not the homicidal maniac of the 1945 and 1973 films, this version of Dillinger has several bodies that can be attributed to him: two Racine cops and a Sioux Falls cop. In reality, Dillinger planned his robberies around not killing people. It's believed the only time Dillinger killed someone was on January 15, 1934 during a bank robbery in East Chicago, Indiana, when he killed a police officer named William O'Malley (it was this murder that Dillinger was awaiting trial for when he broke out of Crown Point), and even then, whether Dillinger was the one who shot O'Malley or not has sometimes been called into question. While in several of Dillinger's bank robberies, people did get shot, the person who shot them was typically Nelson or Van Meter.
  • 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 before any of those three: Van Meter was shot to death by police in St. Paul in late 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 the deaths of Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis.
    • Floyd, rather than being killed by Purvis with a sniper rifle, was fatally injured by a volley of gunfire from a posse consisting of both FBI agents and local police. Purvis was present and nominally in charge of the lawmen, but doesn't appear to have fired his weapon. Floyd was also allegedly shot by one of Purvis's agents after being disarmed, though this is a more controversial account given by a local police officer, which was disputed by other witnesses.
    • The Feds were actually worse in reality than they were in the movie, while 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, when in reality, the former two were killed in shootings that happened without Purvis presentnote , and Van Meter was killed by St. Paul police.note 
    • While Dillinger did orchestrate the September 26, 1933 breakout of his future accomplices from the Indiana State Penitentiary, he did not participate in the breakout because he was locked up in Lima, Ohio awaiting trial for a bank robbery he committed in Bluffton, Ohio. He had someone else smuggle the guns in, the men broke themselves out, then they robbed a bank before traveling to Lima to free Dillinger. Dillinger also wasn't a household name at the time, only becoming this after he was broken out.
      • More problematic is that John "Red" Hamilton is shown out of jail and helps Dillinger with the Trojan Prisoner breakout. When in reality, he was actually one of the escapees, and the only one of them who never got recaptured before his death in April of 1934.
      • The real breakout did not have any of the bloodshed shown in the movie. There was no shootout, no deaths. All that did happen was that the prisoners used the guns to take the guards hostage, and had the guards lead them so as to give the impression to everyone else that nothing was wrong.
    • Billie Frechette's arrest is shown happening after the shootout at Little Bohemia Lodge. In reality, the two events were reversed. In fact, the whole reason the Dillinger gang were at Little Bohemia was that the other members of the gang thought Dillinger could use the vacation to take his mind off Billie's legal troubles.
    • Little Bohemia is shown as being used by the gang as a hideout after a disastrous bank robbery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The two events actually happened about a month and a half apart, and the movie completely skips over the things that happened in the interim: they robbed a bank in Mason City, Iowa a week after the Sioux Falls robbery. At the end of the month, Dillinger, Billie and Van Meter got into a shootout with police in St. Paul. Shortly after this, Dillinger and Billie made a visit to his family in Moorsville, and it was after this that Billie was arrested. Then the gang made a visit to Hamilton's sister Anna Steve before going to Little Bohemia.
    • Purvis and his men are pursuing Dillinger in the first half of the film. During the fall of 1933, the FBI had no involvement in the Dillinger manhunt. The most they did was attend a number of conferences and offer to help the Indiana State Police in fingerprinting; following the death of Lima, Ohio's sheriff during the liberation of Dillinger from that jail, 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 on November 1, 1933. In the film, the criminal who escapes is Baby Face Nelson with Tommy Carroll. In reality, the FBI were attempting to capture Verne Miller, who was wanted as one of the suspected conspirators in 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 Mason City - 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 backwards into a storefront window. Such an incident did happen with Nelson, but it was actually during Dillinger's last bank robbery, of the Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana on June 30, 1934.
    • George "Baby Face" Nelson is depicted as Large and in Charge, common in depictions of him. He was actually The Napoleon, hence his nickname (which he personally hated), given to him after he robbed the wife of Chicago mayor William Hale Thompson, due to his short stature and youthful looks. He also died at age 25.
  • In Medias Res: The film opens with Dillinger and Red staging a jailbreak
  • Instant Death Bullet: It's averted.
    • 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 is in line with actual police training: continue to shoot the target until it falls).
      • In real life, Nelson lasted much longer after being shot. In his real shootout on November 27, 1934 in Barrington, Illinois against Agents Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis (both of whom he 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.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The cops use this at a couple of points.
    • 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 the real Tommy Carroll was never 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 Harold Reinecke giving Billie Frechette the third degree.
      • Although it is Truth in Television that the FBI may have used 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. The fact that Billie gives a false address under torture is meant to show that torture almost never works because the person being subjected to it will say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear to get them to stop.
  • 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.
  • 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 important crime legislation 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.
  • Pet the Dog: Purvis finds the "interrogation" of Frechette horrific (though see Wouldn't Hit a Girl below for the hypocrisy of this). He steps in at the insistence of his secretary Doris Rogers.
  • Psycho for Hire: Dillinger is shown having problems working with Baby Face Nelson. This was Truth in Television: Dillinger hated that he had been forced to work with a murderous bastard like Nelson later in his career, and never bothered to try and hide it. He even threatened to kill Nelson himself if he shot at anyone needlessly. This once happened when Nelson wounded a deaf man during their robbery of the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa on March 13, 1934 - ten days after Dillinger escaped from Crown Point. Dillinger called Nelson out on this. This resentment was mutual: Nelson hated the fact that Dillinger got all the attention, and how the press were drooling all over him.
  • 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, with their incompetency being such that four times in as many weeks in April 1934, agents came within spitting distance of Dillinger but he managed to escape from them.First attempt  Second attempt  Third attempt  Fourth attempt 
  • Red Right Hand: The real Hamilton lost two fingers on his right hand in a childhood sledding accident. Part of another finger on that hand was shot off in a bank robbery in East Chicago in January 1934. 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.
  • Shout-Out: Dillinger says to a bank customer, "You can put it away. I'm not here for your money, I'm here for the bank's money." While it may be a reference to Michael Mann's earlier work, Dillinger actually said these words during his January 15, 1934 robbery of the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana. For whatever reason, some misattribute this line to Bonnie and Clyde (as Clyde was quoted as having said a similar line during a late February bank job). Some think that Clyde was intentionally modeling himself on Dillinger and attempting to clean up his act, as the real Clyde had more in common with Baby-Face Nelson than most Hollywood portrayals would tell you.
  • 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. And yes, the movie Johnny Depp is shown watching is actually Manhattan Melodrama, the real film that the real Dillinger watched before he walked out of the theater and was gunned down.
    • 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 police files show that Dillinger actually said it during the escape from Crown Point.
      • Likewise, in the Racine bank robbery, Dillinger notices 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 being fired simultaneously just feet from his head.
    • Also, in the Little Bohemia shootout, the gang members are firing their BARs, Thompson submachine guns, .351 Winchesters, and machine pistols through the windows. They should be permanently deafened by firing those weapons inside that confined space.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Billie Frechette to John Dillinger.
  • 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.
  • 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 the movie: he was shot at least 51 times with pistols, and once with a shotgun. Some of his fingers were shot off as well.
    • 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: 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.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: When Dillinger escapes from Crown Point, he pulls the distributor and spark cables from a car with an open hood. He is then told it is the sheriff's personal vehicle.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: This film basically semi-fictionalizes the pursuit of Dillinger by various law enforcement agencies.
  • Verbal Business Card: "I'm John Dillinger. I rob banks."
  • Villain Protagonist: John Dillinger.
  • 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.
  • 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.To elaborate 
    • Likewise, we never see Pierpont and Makley after they and Dillinger are seen being arrested. In fact, no mention is made about them. What happened in real life 
  • 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.
  • 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).