Dillinger: An Overlooked Milius Classic

John Milius’ films, specifically Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, are immensely popular within the Alt-Right community. He deftly captures raw masculinity, sentimentalism, honor, folklore and courage in his creations. It’s a shame that his health and Hollywood have handicapped his ability to provide us with additional storytelling. I would submit that the industry still hasn’t found a scriptwriter as sharp as Milius.

Unfortunately, which is not news to the Alt-Right, Hollywood continues to mass-produce sterile fantastical compost. I continually find myself re-watching the great films from the past, and while repetitive, there are extremely limited current options in which to enjoy. Unrealistic depictions of physically domineering women, genius Negroes, tiresome White male villains and the drought of R-rated films, have disenfranchised a large segment of the viewing public. So I scour the past, prior to this current madness, which lead me to 1973’s pleasant surprise, Dillinger.

Dillinger is the kind of film, similar to Road House and Uncommon Valor, which used to dominate cable television in the 1990s; something you would catch your father watching on TBS’ Movies, For Guys Who Like Movies program. In other words, it’s a product before the “Great Pozz Purge,” both in the creative process and the channel programming. Alas, those days are now long gone and, for reference, TBS now includes, since 2006, the feminine Movie and a Makeover.

This film was Milius’ directorial debut, and it contains the typical Milius themes described above. What specifically stood out to me was Milius devotion at capturing the pre-purge, and now bygone, American culture. Not just the Depression imagery, but the uniquely American vernacular. The film perfectly captures the local colloquialisms, the mannerisms, and, to a red-pilled viewer, the pride-warming regionalisms from a time no longer portrayed on film. The casting is near perfect, from the lead to supporting characters, primarily because the actors don’t look like actors, they look like ordinary early-twentieth-century common folk.

Michael Mann, a top notch filmmaker in his own right (see Collateral, Heat and Thief), attempted to tell the Dillinger story in his 2009 Public Enemies. An aspect of that film that failed was the casting. Unlike Warren Oates, who portrays John Dillinger in Milius’ film, Johnny Depp is too clean. He’s too handsome, and represents the typical shortsightedness of current Hollywood productions. The same can be said of Ben Johnson and his portrayal of Melvin Purvis, the man who doggedly hunted down Dillinger and his gang, versus Christian Bale’s incarnation, though the discrepancy is not nearly as extreme as the Oates/Depp comparison. It’s a slick film, in typical Mann fashion, and that usually works; but it fails in capturing its intended time period.

Unlike Mann, Milius’ characters capture the ruggedness of the time period. The crags and wrinkles in their faces. The hardened eyes. And not just their physical manifestation, but their emotional connection. The Dillinger gang, other than Richard Dreyfuss’ George “Baby Face” Nelson, operate almost familial-like. You believe that they care for each other. They joke with one another in a dialogue and dialect that a pozzed millennial viewer would find alien and foreign. They are courteous to their women and, on occasion, to the common folk. And while desperate killers, they seem to delight and enjoy the entire affair, and even recognize that the end is always near.

An example of the fine dialogue, provided below between a sympathetic farm woman, a member of the common folk, and an on-the-lamb, and nearing his end, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd.

Farm woman: Do you need a Bible?

Pretty Boy Floyd: I admit, I have sinned; I have been a sinner, but I enjoyed it. I have killed men, but the dirty sons-of-bitches deserved it. The way I figure it, it's too late for no Bible. Thanks just the same, Ma'am.”

Shortly after, he’s gunned down in a hail of bullets.

It’s a brutal film and doesn’t shy away from violence, sexual aggressiveness and death. The titular character doesn’t necessarily break the Fourth Wall (speaking directly at the viewer), but Oates stares openly at the camera, at the very beginning of the film, while robbing a bank and says, after providing a sinister grin and wolfishly flirting on the bank teller (manifested as the viewer), “John Dillinger,” and pulls a pistol. And from there, it’s a blunt and sentimental ride throughout the entire film.

Another vintage aspect of the film is there is little nuance or complication with Milius’ Dillinger. There is no internal conflict to go “straight” or escape from his past. He decisively relishes on his legend and myth-making adventure. Modern films feel the need to extract and wrestle with the protagonist’s internal struggle. Milius knows this isn’t necessary and, logically, ensures that it isn’t represented in the film. In a sense, it’s a masculine film, due to its decisiveness, like much of Milius’ work, and it moves forward without introspection or being irresolute.

This simplicity is illustrated when Dillinger says to his sexual conquest and lover, Billie Frechette, “All my life I wanted to be a bank robber. Carry a gun and wear a mask. Now that it's happened I guess I'm just about the best bank robber they ever had. And I sure am happy.” And it’s totally genuine when Oates says it. You look at him and think, this is a hardened man, which Oates would use to great success throughout his career (see The Wild Bunch, another fantastic film).

And if Oates’ Dillinger makes a compelling anti-hero, Ben Johnson’s Melvin Purvis is a great foil, pursing Dillinger with almost T-800 Model 101 efficiency and the folksiness of a John Ford character. His mission, while smoking cigars and wielding duel .45 pistols, is to eradicate Dillinger, his gang and other hoodlums running roughshod throughout the Midwest and Southwest. Milius provides some interesting nuances to Purvis, but never makes him unwavering in his mission, and both the FBI (G-men) and the gangsters develop a form of mutual and deadly respect. This is illustrated with the below dialogue:

Melvin Purvis: Are you Pretty Boy Floyd?

Pretty Boy Floyd: [gasping in pain] I'm. Charles. Arthur. Floyd

Melvin Purvis: This is for Kansas City, boy.

Pretty Boy Floyd: [in more pain] I wasn't in on that... I swear.

Melvin Purvis: You shouldn't be lying when you're so close to your maker.

Pretty Boy Floyd: [fading rapidly] You must be Purvis.

Melvin Purvis: That's right.

Pretty Boy Floyd: I'm. Glad. It. Was. You. [dies]”

Other than Milius’ sentimentalism for a now extinct American culture, there are other aspects of the film that a modern film audience would find disturbing. In fact, most of the characters are triggering, since they represent, in both their mannerisms and appearance, legacy Americans. A period and outlook, which must be eradicated in every medium.

As referenced above regarding Billie Frechette, she is practically raped by Dillinger early in the film. She is a prostitute, a Dillinger favorite, and there are certainly no consent forms or PC-approved courtships. She’s simply grabbed by him in a bar, after his ego gets the best of him, and driven to his hideout. There, he throws her on the bed and has his way with her. Later, it’s implied that he gives her a black eye. And after a shootout that leaves members of his crew injured, he goes out of his way to “kidnap” her from the presumed safety of her mother’s house. And, in the end, she’s madly in love with him. You believe her when she screams, “Run, Johnny!” while providing cover fire with a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).

This would be blasphemous in a modern film; feminists would be boycotting studios and covering themselves in fake blood. Susan Sarandon, dressed like a streetwalker and appearing on a late-night comedy show (likely on that smug limey’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver), would psychoanalyze the film as the result of “impotent rage,” a favorite progressive smear.

In addition, there’s extremely little “diversity” in the film. It makes sense. J.J. Abram’s Hollywood would certainly shoehorn in a lesbian Oriental beat cop, colored Texas Ranger, what have you. In fact, the only non-White is naturally and logically depicted as a bungling glib fool in Frank McRae’s Reed Youngblood. Youngblood, a dimwitted Negro and awaiting execution on death row, is spared by Dillinger to assist him in successfully escaping prison. Dillinger pities him and allows him to join the gang as a non-essential member. He eventually gets killed in a shootout, while not demonstrating himself particularly well in combat.

Spike Lee would demand a weak-kneed studio executive to create his own Whiz-like all-Black version. Black Lives Matter (BLM) would cry out against the injustice and social media would erupt in a firestorm with nerd film fanboys nitpicking every aspect of the film.

Overall, the film is a fun and nostalgic romp. The protagonist are crystal clear in their intentions. They’re outlaws. The antagonist are the system and will systematically track them down and kill them. No one will be left alive. The Dillinger gang will meet a gruesome end, but they will not go quietly.

The shootout scene at the Little Bohemia Lodge is incredible and is well worth it, including the fallout afterward.

I give this film four out of five stars. Not an Alt Right masterpiece, but an excellent film to include in your collection.

PS. An immigrant gets deported as well.

Ranking System:

0 Stars – Save the Last Dance
1 Stars – Baby’s Day Out
2 Stars – Salt
3 Stars – Hell Comes to Frogtown
4 Stars - Commando
5 Stars - Zulu