This afternoon I watched Lawrence Tierney as DILLINGER. Given that gangster movies aren't my favorite thing, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this stylish, zippy 70-minute movie released by Monogram Pictures.
The movie begins rather awkwardly, with Dillinger's father (Victor Kilian) speaking to an auditorium about how his son went bad. After that, it jumps right into the action, showing how Dillinger met up with his gang (including Edmund Lowe and Elisha Cook Jr.) and his girl (Anne Jeffreys). The Dillinger gang is shown in action, and ultimately, as many history buffs or film fans know, Dillinger is gunned down after seeing MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934).
Gangster movies, like "outlaw" Westerns, have a way of not ending well (grin), though I've liked a couple of titles such as WHITE HEAT (1949). This one really worked for me, and I've been trying to put my finger on the reasons why.
Tierney, known as a man with a hair-trigger temper off the screen, was perfect casting as the notorious outlaw; I found him even more interesting in this than in BORN TO KILL (1947). His emotional reticence really works for the character, and one can also see the dangerous half-smile attracting a woman like Helen (Jeffreys).
I think I was even more fascinated by Anne Jeffreys, who starts out as a movie ticket taker held up by Dillinger but unexpectedly ends up as his moll. She gave a fresh, striking performance; there are plenty of other blondes in noir and gangster films but Jeffreys, constantly watching Dillinger but never commenting on his behavior, felt original, and my eyes were constantly drawn to her, trying to figure out what Helen was thinking and feeling.
It's interesting that I first knew Jeffreys from the TV work she did later in her career, such as FALCON CREST; over the last few years I've seen her in a couple of '40s films, including NEVADA (1944), but otherwise until now I've pretty much missed out on her film career. Her Helen is one cool customer, seeming to ignore -- but secretly attracted to -- Dillinger's behavior, although watching him gun down a series of people she knows finally causes her to rethink their relationship. That ends about as well for Tony (Ralph Lewis) as it does for Steve Cochran in WHITE HEAT...
Jeffreys was also a musical theater star who was married to Robert Sterling for over half a century, until his passing in 2006. She turned 90 earlier this year, and she looked fabulous on the red carpet at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival!
The cast also included Eduardo Ciannelli, Marc Lawrence, Elsa Janssen, Ludwig Stossel, Selmer Jackson, Constance Worth, and Sam McDaniel.
There's some great location work filmed in Big Bear by Jackson Rose, and there's also a wonderfully staged robbery sequence in the rain, although apparently some of the robbery footage in the film was lifted from a '30s Fritz Lang film. The director of DILLINGER was Max Nosseck. The film also boasts a score by Dimitri Tiomkin. The script was by Philip Yordan, with IMDb also mentioning an uncredited contribution by William Castle.
The movie was produced by the King Brothers, who were also behind GUN CRAZY (1950) and SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950).
DILLINGER is available on DVD in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2. Other films in the set previously reviewed here are BORN TO KILL (1947), CROSSFIRE (1947), and THE NARROW MARGIN (1952); the set also includes CLASH BY NIGHT (1952).
The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix or Netflix.
DILLINGER can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.