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'Dillinger' DVD Review *** 072205
The Work = ***
In 'Reservoir Dogs' Tierney was an old man, with a craggly, puffy, face and a gravely voice. He had a commanding (and somewhat grumpy) presence that was pretty memorable. Made almost fifty years earlier, 'Dillinger' shows Tierney as a young and handsome man. I could see traces of the man he would become in films like 'Reservoir Dogs'.
The younger Tierney often shows the scowl that is constantly on the older Tierney’s face. It is not yet as seemingly permanent as it would become by the time Tierney was taking roles in films in the 90s. Despite not really looking anything like the gangster John Dillinger, Tierney is great in the role and adds a certain amount of tough charisma to his character.
The film itself was no doubt made on a micro budget. Sets are reused, stock footage is used, and the film’s running time is barely over an hour. One of the biggest downsides to 'Dillinger' is the decision by its makers to use footage from Fritz Lang’s film, 'You Only Live Once' (amongst other things.) Adding to that is the very strange nature of 'Dillinger’s structure.
For example, the opening of the movie has an audience in a theater listening to Dillinger’s father speak about his lawbreaking son. The film never returns to the old man and the sequence seems very out of place. Stranger still, this film was nominated for an Oscar in 1945! Maybe writer Philip Yordan’s dialogue and situations won voters over, although as a whole it didn’t really impress me.
Still, the cold performance of Tierney helps to make the movie watchable. In fact the only time that Tierney seemed to give a poor note was towards the end of the film when he watches a cartoon at a theater. Dillinger laughs at the cartoon and Tierney is just not able to give a convincing laugh. What comes out of him is an awkward sound but not really what I would call a laugh.
Tierney strikes me as someone who would have been a much bigger star had his personality not gotten in the way. Having read and heard stories about his sometimes irrational behavior I have to wonder if the man didn’t have some sort of mental illness that was never treated. I don’t mean that as a dig, I just wonder if there wasn’t something that could have been to help the guy be more manageable. Even as Dillinger, acting in one of his first roles, he practically carries the movie.
There are some good scenes in the film as well. One that stood out was a scene involving Dillinger’s return to a restaurant after a stay in prison. He had been in the restaurant before his prison term when he was a small time criminal. When he returns to the establishment he has lots of money to flash around from successful (and violent) robberies and escapes. The waiter does not remember Dillinger and the hood takes it out on the waiter by buying him some drinks and then cutting up the poor man’s face with a broken glass.
DVD = ***
It would have really benefited from having a film historian on the track or someone who was particularly knowledgeable about the film. As the track is now, there are only scattered bits about the production (largely from the very brief comments from Yordan. Milius really just gives his observations about the film. He does manage to cover topics like the real Dillinger and Milius’ own 'Dillinger' film but he is not particularly knowledgeable about this earlier interpretation of the gangster's life.
All Together = ***
There are a few good scenes but on the whole 'Dillinger' seemed pretty disjointed to me. The WB did a good job with this release but I wish there had been a bit more on the commentary track (or even a second one altogether.) I shouldn’t be complaining considering so many older films get bad transfers and are ignored in the extras department. I give this one a light recommendation and say if you are a fan check it out. Otherwise, maybe a rental?
Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.