“Decent folk don’t live that good.”
Watching movies about the late 1920s and 1930s, you would think that gangsters roamed freely on every street corner. John Milius has the gangster quota covered with Dillinger, which in retrospect is a great companion piece to that other great gangster picture released a few years earlier, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Coincidentally, both star men named Warren (Warren Beatty was Clyde and in this film Warren Oates plays John Dillinger). Sure these men are dapper and dressed to kill – literally – but these are no gentlemen. They rob banks as casually as if they were grocery shopping, and kill whoever gets in their way. There is a scene where “Baby Face” Nelson (played with gusto by Richard Dreyfuss) is told that a police officer is outside, and he maniacally mows down a group of bystanders to take out the cop who is standing among them. It’s a shocking and quick moment in a film that doesn’t shy away from violent imagery. Given the way Dillinger’s crime reign ended, it is only fitting to have the man’s life chronicled in a movie. Has there ever been a gangster whose real life exploits are so associated with a movie theater as Dillinger’s?
Dillinger is a bloody, violent picture that pulls no punches, and one would expect no less from Director Milius (Red Dawn, Conan The Barbarian), an unabashed gun collector and NRA member whose films tap into strong, male characters who are epic in stature as they are in legend. Here we are treated to a pair of laser-focused, unforgiving men, Oates’ Dillinger and his pursuer, FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson). Purvis is introduced as he pledges to kill each and every last public enemy loose in the U.S., and follow it up by smoking an expensive cigar over their bloody corpses. Purvis in actuality didn’t play as big of a role that he does in this story. It may not be historically accurate, but it makes for a more compelling picture – especially with Johnson in the role. Thanks to this top-notch disc release from Arrow Video U.S., that is just one of the insightful pieces of information regarding the background and making of this picture that you will walk away with after going through the special features and listening to the audio commentary.
Taking us into Dillinger’s world with a first-person perspective bank robbery that puts us in the shoes of the hapless teller, followed by a jaunty opening credits sequence featuring the Depression-period tune “We’re in the Money“, Dillinger starts with a bang and never lets up for a moment. Oates is as charming as he is dangerous, and the gritty, naturally lit cinematography by Jules Brenner evokes the period perfectly, while still looking fabulous and nostalgic. The audio commentary by author and film-historian Stephen Prince repeatedly points out how Milius was influenced by filmmaker John Ford, and the inclusion of Ford regular Ben Johnson just enhances that aspect. It’s a gorgeous looking picture that shines thanks to a 2K restoration from original film materials.
In addition to the beautiful transfer, Arrow has packed the disc with special features that will satisfy both film lovers and historians alike. Sadly, Director John Milius is absent from all them having suffered a stroke – from which he recovered – that left him unable to speak or walk (recommended viewing is the documentary Milius that shows the director having to learn normal body functions, including speech, again), but the interview participants which include Director of Photography Jules Brenner, Producer Lawrence Gordon and Composer Barry De Vorzon, make up for it by keeping Mr. Milius front and center as the topic of conversation, and the reason that this picture exists and why it is so good.
Dillinger brings to life in violent, yet hauntingly nostalgic fashion a period where gangsters lived fast and died hard, and struck a blow for the Depression-era people who had lost everything to the banks that these hoodlums robbed. One might not consider the gangsters the bad guys, but the banks they rob as the villains. The G-men aren’t exactly presented here as the wholesome law-abiders early pictures painted them as. Johnson’s Purvis gleefully kills each and every gangster, and then hogs the spotlight as the man taking down these public enemies. No matter which side you choose to root for, it’s a glorious presentation of a solid film that demands attention, and proper appreciation which this disc release should inspire.
Bonus features on the disc include:
- Brand new 2K restoration of the film from original film materials
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the film
- Original mono soundtrack (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema and Screening Violence
- Newly-filmed interview with producer Lawrence Gordon
- Newly-filmed interview with director of photography Jules Brenner
- Newly-filmed interview with composer Barry De Vorzon
- Stills gallery
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
- Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Kim Newman on fictional portrayals of John Dillinger, plus an on-set report containing interviews with writer-director John Milius and others, illustrated with original production stills
Release Date: April 26, 2016
2-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo; Running Time: 107 minutes; Rated R
1.85:1; Region: A