6 July 2005 | bsmith5552
Excellent Poverty Row Gangster Flick!
"Dillinger" was made by poverty row studio Monogram Pictures as a "B" picture programmer however, it turned out to be much better than everyone had anticipated. Although it takes liberties with actual facts, it is nonetheless a dark and brooding little film noire.
The producers lucked in when Lawrence Tierney was cast in the lead role. He plays John Dillinger as a cold blooded non-repentant killer. The real Dillinger was apparently nothing like Tierney's interpretation but was more of a Robin Hood type character who was only a bank robber and not the cold blooded killer depicted in this film.
The story follows Dillinger from a small time hood to his first prison term where he meets future members of his gang. Specs Green (Edmund Lowe) is the planner and three of the most recognizable faces in gangster pictures round out the gang. First there is Marco (Eduardo Ciannelli), then Doc (Marc Lawrence) and finally Kirk Otto (Elisha Cook Jr.).
Along the way Dillinger meets his "femme fatale", Helen Rogers (Anne Jeffreys). After Dillinger springs the gang from prison they go on a bank robbing spree. Dillinger takes over the gang from Specs and runs things his way. Eventually the gang members are either caught or killed and Dillinger goes to hide out in Chicago. After several months in hiding he and Helen go to a movie at the Biograph theater. Helen is dressed in red and well you know the rest.
Tierney should have risen to major stardom after this film but due to his personal problems, he never really did. He reportedly had a hair trigger temper and often got into bar room brawls, Naturally producers began to shy away from. His career is not unlike another actor who almost made it, Tom Neal.
After starring roles in a few films, notably "Born To Kill" (1947), he drifted into smaller and smaller roles. He did find work well into the 1990s but never did achieve stardom. But his work in this film is what has elevated it to the cult status it enjoys today. The gunning down of the elderly Ottos (Elsa Janssen, Ludwig Stessel) and the maiming of a bar waiter are particularly chilling.
Edmund Lowe had been a star in silent films. By this time his career was winding down. Ciannelli, Lawrence and Cook were staples in gangster roles for decades thereafter.
John Milius who made the 1973 "Dillinger" (closer to the facts) provides some interesting insights and commentary on the DVD release.