directed by John Milius

starring Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, and Harry Dean Stanton

AIP, Arrow

As the production code fell apart in the late 1960s, a new genre of movies flourished and anti-heroes took over the screen. These were bad people you didn’t want to meet, but in the genre they became a voice for the protests and anti-authority feeling of the day. This particular example chronicles the notorious John Dillinger and his gang. They terrorized the Midwest, robbing small town banks and police stations. Here the main conflict spins between tough as nails Dillinger (Oates) and imperious Melvin Purvis (Johnson). The hunt for Dillinger was tough due to the poor communication of the day and the spread out, insular nature of the Midwest. Crimes may have been reported to the local police, but the information route to Washington and back to the field made Purvis’ chase difficult. Like any good gangster, Dillinger had a moll named Billie (French Phillips). Thin and haunted, she’s half American Indian and despised roundly by everyone she meets except Dillinger. Her sex appeal is muted; neither party is a looker, but they are both willing to compromise and someone is better than no-one. Dillinger’s right-hand man Homer Van Meter (Harry Dean Stanton) stands out; he projects that sharp, dangerous edge all good gangsters need.

Anti-hero movies can often be a bit too precious; but this one plunged in without apology and never really challenges the idea that Dillinger was a bad man who hurt and destroyed innocent people. The G-Men aim to do what is right, never mind the niceties of the law. Dillinger’s gang is full of narcissistic, slightly crazy men who know they won’t live long and don’t care. Sex is a maintenance item like getting your suit pressed or filling up with gas; here it’s completely un-erotic and you never cheer for Billie and John as you would for any other romantic couple. The acting overall is tabloid exploitative, and perfect for the material. The film quality is low and the colors muted but that’s typical for the era’s low budget shooting. Shot on 16 mm and blown up to 35mm then digitized, the image quality is acceptable but just. While there are no real artifacts there just isn’t enough detail to make this flick look great in Blu-ray. But it’s a movie that sticks with you; it has enough action and humor to remain interesting; and its one of AIP’s best releases.


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