Dillinger (1973) Warren Oates Is Public Enemy Number One

Dillinger (1973) poster one sheet art work bank robber

Heavy hitting gangsters all on the screen at the same time. This film portrays the notorious last years of bank robber and gangster John Dillinger and his infamous gang of men. Written and directed by a legend in his own right John Milius.

Set during the Great Depression in the early 1930’s this action packed movie follows the charismatic John Dillinger on his quest to relieve the banks of their funds. Following the deaths of several law enforcement officers during the carnage of the Kansas City Massacre in 1933 FBI special agent Melvin Purvis steps up on a personal mission to bring these hoodlums to justice. If that justice is at the hand of a gun and a smoking cigar, so be it. This is the story of the G-Men (the FBI government men) and their mission to put a stop the Dillinger Gang, the ruthless terror gang. Here are all the players surrounding our Public Enemy Number One……

Warren Oates is John Dillinger

Ben Johnson is Melvin Purvis

Michelle Phillips is Evelyn Billie Frechette

John Dillinger and Evelyn Billie Frechette together

Harry Dean Stanton is Homer Van Meter

Geoffrey Lewis is Harry Pierpont

Richard Dreyfuss is Baby Face Nelson

Frank McRae is Herbert Reed Youngblood

Steve Kanaly is Pretty Boy Floyd


Tagline  – The Best Damn Bank Robber in the World!

Dillinger (1973) Publicity shot Harry Dean Stanton Geoffrey Lewis Warren Oates John P Ryan

Dillinger (Oates) Van Meter (Stanton) Pierpont (Lewis) Charles Makley (John P Ryan)

Other real life gangster featured in the movie are Charles Makley, George Machine Gun Kelly and Handsome Jack Klutas.

A few observations and things I’ve learnt.

  • Bizarrely Melvin Purvis appeared on the game show To Tell The Truth were the panel has to guess which out the three contestants is the real FBI agent. It was shown in september 1957. Three years later he would die from a bullet from his own gun at the age of 56.

  • Michelle Phillips from pop group The Mamas and the Papas fame got married to Dennis Hopper for 8 whole days! I bet that was one insane crazy wild ride.
  • Warren Oates and Ben Johnson had earlier played the Gorch brothers in Sam Peckinpah’s classic western The Wild Bunch.

Dillinger (1973) Ben Johnson warren Oates Wild Bunch g

  • John Milius also got to write a sequel of sorts in a TV movie called Melvin Purvis G-Man (1974) sounds like it was to be a pilot for a series that never worked out. There was another film by the director Dan Curtis called The Kansas City Massacre (1975) both starring Dale Robertson in the Purvis role. Anyone seen them? Any good?
  • FBI Special Agent Clarence Hurt who was involved with many high profile cases during the gangster era was employed on the film as a technical advisor. What a fantastic photo this is.
Dillinger (1973) FBI Special Agent Clarence Hurt G-men 2nd from the right

FBI Special Agent Clarence Hurt is 2nd from the right

  • There’s a 1945 version starring Lawrence Tierney as Dillinger. I haven’t seen it. A TV movie from 1991 starring Mark Harmon and Will Patton as Melvin Purvis. Then there was the big budget Michael Mann directed film in 2009 called Public Enemies. Johnny Depp was JD and Christian Bale was MP. Yep I kid you not. TBH I didn’t like it at the time but might revisit it now that it’s back on my radar just to see the comparison with the Milius vision.
  • Fellow movie blogger Mike’s Take On The Movies has done a neat little video introducing the film on his site, pop on over for a look here.
  • One of my favorite lines from Harry Dean Stanton “Goddamit! Things ain’t workin’ out for me today!”
  • Go read about John Dillinger and the plastic surgery story on the wikipedia page! Bizarre is the word.

It’s a extremely exciting fast paced film with superb characters and equally excellent actors. It’s bloody and furious at times. I’d had seen it as a kid and only remembered small scenes, the farm house and a few of the frenzied bank raids. It was a pure delight to rewatch. Well with that calibre of actors all together on the screen it was always gonna be like a blast from a Colt Thompson submachine gun.

One of your favourites? Remember it well? Let me know if want. Fascinating to read the real life stories behind the infamous men! What a crazy time!

27 thoughts on “Dillinger (1973) Warren Oates Is Public Enemy Number One

  1. Great post drawing upon the real life photos and reminding one and all that this is a hell of a gangster pic bringing the depression era to life with a cast that couldn’t have been better picked. Thanks for the shout out. Filmed that when I first got underway with the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a good one! I can’t believe you haven’t seen the Tierney version – please do so immediately! Those TV movies you mentioned aren’t bad, far as TV movies go. There’s another version I’d recommend, a low-budget effort from 1965 titled “Young Dillinger”, with Nick Adams as JD, Robert Conrad as Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Ashley as Baby Face Nelson! Worth seeking out, for sure. Happy viewing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that’s the kind of news I need to hear! “please do so immediately!”.. Cheers Gary I will get on Tierney’s Dillinger as soon as I can.
      Liking the sound of that Young Dillinger too. Added to my watch list. Nice one buddy, much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post! I have the Arrow Video restoration, which is stellar stuff. Yeah, Stanton’s line is a total classic and probably his best last line in all the films he got bumped off in. You almost feel sorry for the guy, but those were the “shoot first/ask questions later… uh, we can’t ask any questions because the suspect is deceased!” days…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha yes indeed Greg, “shoot first/ask questions later”… In a room filled with bullet riddled bodies the cop asks what on earth happened? well that guy over there just asked for the time and all hell broke loose!

      Stanton line is brilliant. It so suited his mannerisms too . 🙂


  4. i’m an amateur historian about this era. I have a fetish for it, if you will. Especially about the Depression era gangsters. For instance, the last shoot out involving Baby Face Nelson was particularly gruesome. It–and Nelson–was the inspiration for James Cagney in White Heat. Nelson was literally shot to pieces but he kept on coming–swinging his machine gun. He killed more FBI agents than anyone else. He later died in a hideout, his loyal wife holding his hand. His last words, “…Helen, where are you. It’s getting very dark. I can barely see you. It’s getting dark…Helen…”
    Of course I love this movie. It’s reasonably accurate. The most glaring inconsistency is the Purvis character. Melvin Purvis was nothing like Sam Johnson’s portrayal. In fact, his nickname in the FBI was “Little Mel”. He was thought of as a bit of a sissy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so fascinating isn’t it Pam. Doing the post took me blooming ages as every time I looked for a photo of one of the guys I was taken off down a rabbit hole.
      Amazing that they were all in their early 30’s. Incredible there is still all their mugshots and quite a few other candid shots. Bonkers of all and very macabre but still you gotta look is all the morgue images! They did like a bloody posed body back then! Homer Van Meter was literally cut to shreds in his pictures. Fingers blasted off etc…. Dillingers made up face is so freaky! And like you say the Baby Face shoot out sounded crazy!
      Yeah watching Melvin Purvis on that game show you can’t help but feel sorry for him. He looked old, broken and fragile and nothing compared to Ben Johnson’s portrayal.
      One of the things I liked, not shown in the film is that Pretty Boy Floyd got the title of Public Enemy No 1 for 3 months after out living Dillinger. I thought he was one of the best characters in the film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Was that Floyd? I thought it was Nelson? Hard for me to keep it straight, it’s been awhile since I’ve read about this stuff.
        Pretty Boy Floyd is a more sympathetic character than a lot of those guys. He was, however, most likely involved in the Kansas City Massacre.
        Like you, I didn’t care for the movie Public Enemies, but the book is great. I highly recommend it.
        Here’s some link to to my postsconcerning Bonnie and Clyde and the book that was inspired by them “Thieves Like Us”. It’s the first part of a four part series that can be found in the December portion of my archive page if you’re interested.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hehe I’m gonna sound all knowledgeable now but please let it be known I’m just reading from wiki.
          With Dillinger being killed his public enemy number 1 title went to Pretty Boy Floyd until he was gunned down in Oct 22 1934. The title then went to Baby Face Nelson for just over a month until he died from his gunshot wounds in November 27 1934. The fourth person to be called it was Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and unlike the past 3, this guy was captured and spent 30 odd years in prison. He was connected to the Ma Barker gang.

          It’s all so fascinating and I feel I will be delving in deeper. Thanks for the recommend on your link and the Public Enemies book. Will keep a lookout for it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, there you go. It’s sounds right to me. An amazing thing about Karpis, is that he actually knew a couple of old West gunslingers–keep in mind that this is 20s and 30’s–and, yes, he went to prison for 30 yrs., Alcatraz where he met Al Capone and then was transferred to another facility where he–get this– taught Charles Manson how to play the guitar. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m NOT gushing–this is gross, but it is interesting.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Wow that is amazing, that the old west and the gangster started to overlap. They seem so far apart but then when you think Wyatt Earp died in 1929 just as this lot of crazies started tearing up the place.
              Well I never, that’s fascinating on the guitar and Charles Manson!!!
              Yep it’s very weird to listen to but have you heard his music? “Look At Your Game Girl” is absolutely beautiful.

              Liked by 1 person

              • No, I haven’t heard it Mikey. I’ve heard that it was very good but I just never had the desire to check it out. I have read a quite a lot about Manson though. He is so despicable that, I guess, I don’t want to think of him being capable of beauty. It humanizes him and I don’t want him to be human.
                It’s like Hitler, he was an artist , as everybody knows. His art is routinely lambasted, but my daughter is an artist–a good one. She and I have analyzed some of his pieces. I always thought some of them were pretty good, but I don’t have an educated eye. She does–and she agreed. She thinks some of them are very good. Neither one of us want to like his art, but it is what it is.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I know and totally understand what you are saying. Please don’t feel like you have to listen to it, not my intention. The words are beautiful and it does not fit in with what we know of him. Exactly the humanizing is a problem. It just feels so wrong. Guns and Roses covered it but it doesn’t have that emotional depth to it. Being so into music it’s difficult not to really admire it but at the same time so difficult to share. Just when we chatting about him, prison and a guitar, it seemed so apt. 🙂
                  PS Hitler’s art is very good, bastard! You had think they be stick figures and finger paintings and CM would be tone-deaf and have thumbs for fingers! Double bastards!!

                  Liked by 1 person

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