The name John Milius is synonymous with terms like macho, violent, and male. Writer of Apocalypse Now and director of films like Red Dawn and the ultimate macho movie, Conan the Barbarian, Milius has made a name for himself as a master macho storyteller. Dillinger, made by American International Pictures, was one of his first films but it embodies his sensibilities and his love for ultra violence.
Dillinger is set in American in the 1930s and follows infamous bank robber John Dillinger as he pulls a string of robberies and evades capture by the FBI. A biopic of sorts, Dillinger is reportedly historically inaccurate but if we wanted accuracy, we’d watch a documentary right? Perhaps I’m lenient on the liberties taken by Milius because the resulting film is entertaining and has that special stink only he can put on a film. The film stars Warren Oates as Dillinger, Ben Johnson as Melvin Pervis, FBI, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cloris Leachman among other familiar faces. The film is a who’s who of great character actors from the era and each actor brings their tough A game.
The story of Dillinger is a familiar one that has seen other cinematic adaptations and appropriations since the ’30s. What separates this version from the others is the gleeful use of graphic violence. People are mowed down not by one bullet but by several with plenty of blood thrown around for good measure. The actors are allowed to be as intense as they want to be and everyone has a chip on their shoulder. While not as successful as his later efforts, Dillinger is still a solid 70’s film far more violent than most from the era. Milus was ahead of his time or perhaps he helped to herald the era of 80’s over-the-top super violence. Either way Dillinger is an interesting time capsule from a director that didn’t produce many films in his career but when he did, they were sure to put hair on your chest.
The film looks fantastic, once again Arrow has done a great job restoring this lesser seen film and has helped rescue it from obscurity. If tough 70’s cinema, Warren Oates, and/or John Milius get you excited, this is a great release to pick up.