Ten Best John Dillinger Movies
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Ten Best John Dillinger Movies

The ten best John Dillinger movies include Johnny Depp in Public Enemies, Warren Oates in Dillinger, Nick Adams in Young Dillinger, Lawrence Tierney in Dillinger, Robert Conrad in The Lady in Red, Martin Sheen in Dillinger and Capone, Leo Gordon in Baby Face Nelson, Mark Harmon in Dillinger, Ralph Meeker in Dillinger and Martin Kove in Baby Face Nelson.

John Herbert Dillinger Jr. (1903-1934) was one of America's most notorious gangsters during the Depression-era 1930s. The scowling, flamboyant Dillinger, who met his bloody end outside Chicago's Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934, at the hands of the FBI, has been featured in a number of movie and television productions through the years. Here are the ten best John Dillinger movies...

Public Enemies (Universal, 2009)

Johnny Depp stars as John Dillinger in Public Enemies, director Michael Mann's $100 million ode to the gangster era. Public Enemies focuses on Dillinger's final years of the early 1930s, where he is living in Chicago. G-man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) tracks down Public Enemy Number One, where the latter finally meets his bloody end outside the Biograph Theater after being betrayed by the infamous woman in red. James Russo (Walter Dietrich), David Wenham (Harry Pierpont), Christian Stolte (Charles Makley), Stephen Dorff (Homer Van Meter), Channing Tatum (Pretty Boy Floyd) and Marion Cotillard (Billie Frechette) also appear. Johnny Depp garnered a Satellite Award nomination for Best Actor.

Dillinger (American International Pictures, 1973)

Warren Oates plays John Dillinger in this bloody, violent gangster flick written and directed by John Milius. Oates' Dillinger hooks up with Baby Face Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly) and other hoods, trying to stay a step ahead of dogged pursuer Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson). Michelle Phillips plays Billie Frechette, Dillinger's beautiful gal pal, with Cloris Leachman as Anna Sage and Harry Dean Stanton as Homer Van Meter. "I rob banks for a living, what do you do?" Oates' John Dillinger declares in one scene.

Warren Oates in Dillinger (1973) - Heritage Auctions

Young Dillinger (Allied Artists, 1965)

Nick Adams comes out smokin' as John Dillinger in yet another extremely violent account of the gangster's bloody exploits. Directed by Terry D. Morse, the movie charts the first incarceration of Dillinger after he is convicted of robbing the father of his girlfriend Elaine Johnsyn (Mary Ann Mobley). While in prison, young Dillinger falls in the orbit of Pretty Boy Floyd (Robert Conrad) and Baby Face Nelson (John Ashley). There's plenty of action in this one, featuring bank robberies, shootouts and prison breaks. In one scene an angry Dillinger straps a quack doctor (John Hoyt) into a wheelchair and pushes him off a ramp into a lake. The doc had screwed up, botching Dillinger's plastic surgery. The movie's soundtrack is wild and brooding, ably capturing the bloody life and times of young Dillinger.

Dillinger (Monogram, 1945)

Lawrence Tierney has the distinction of first playing John Dillinger on the silver screen. Dillinger chronicles the rise and fall of Public Enemy Number One, with Anne Jeffreys (Helen Rogers), Edmund Lowe (Specs Green), Eduardo Ciannelli (Marco Minelli), Marc Lawrence (Doc Madison) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Kirk Otto) along for the violent ride into gangsterdom. Directed by Max Nosseck and made for $193,000, Dillinger went on to gross over $4 million, proving that crime does pay, at least at the box office. 

Lawrence Tierney in Dillinger (1945) - Heritage Auctions

The Lady in Red (New World, 1979)

Robert Conrad – Pretty Boy Floyd in Young Dillinger (1965) – returns to the gangster era, this time as John Dillinger in The Lady in Red. In this outing written by John Sayles and directed by Lewis Teague, Dillinger acquires Polly Franklin (Pamela Sue Martin) as his gun moll, with the pair engaging in a life of crime. The Lady in Red is told through Polly's eyes, making for a different version of the John Dillinger story. Tough-guy actor Conrad carries the Dillinger role nicely, with Pamela Sue Martin making for a darned cute gun-toting accomplice.

Robert Conrad and Pamela Sue Martin in The Lady in Red (1979) - Heritage Auctions

Dillinger and Capone (New Concorde, 1995)

Martin Sheen plays John Dillinger and F. Murray Abraham appears as Al Capone in this wild gangster conspiracy film directed by Jon Purdy. As the story goes, the FBI gun down the wrong man outside the Biograph Theater in 1934, with the real Dillinger slipping away to a new life. Chicago underworld czar Al Capone, however, knows the true story, and forces Dillinger to pull one of the biggest bank heists in American history, hoping to retrieve the millions in cash which he, Scarface Capone, has hidden away. Roger Corman served as executive producer, with Stephen Davies (Cecil), Catherine Hicks (Abigail), Don Stroud (George) and Sasha Jenson (Billy) in support.

Baby Face Nelson (United Artists, 1957)

Mickey Rooney has the title role of Lester "Baby Face" Nelson in this low-budget gangster flick made for $175,000 and directed by Don Siegel. Playing the role of John Dillinger is tough-guy character actor Leo Gordon, who does a credible job as Public Enemy Number One and the "brains" of his own criminal enterprise. Carolyn Jones (Sue Nelson), Cedric Hardwicke (Doc Saunders), Anthony Caruso (John Hamilton), Jack Elam (Fatso Nagel) and John Hoyt (Samuel F. Parker) round out the supporting cast. The Mick and Gordon deliver the gangster goods big time in this mobster shoot-'em-up.

Dillinger (ABC-TV, 1991)

Mark Harmon of NCIS TV fame stars as John Dillinger in this made-for-television movie directed by Rupert Wainwright and first telecast on January 6, 1991. Sherilyn Fenn (Billy Frechette), Will Patton (Melvin Purvis), Bruce Abbott (Harry Pierpont), Tom Bower (Captain Leach) and Patricia Arquette (Polly) also appear. Dillinger recounts the life and death of the one-time Public Enemy Number One, including his famous demise outside Chicago's Biograph Theater. Dillinger was filmed in Wisconsin (Milwaukee, East Troy, Mequon) and features actor Lawrence Tierney, who starred as Dillinger in 1945, in the role of Sheriff Sarber. Also look for Vince Edwards of TV's Ben Casey fame in the role of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

Mark Harmon in Dillinger (1991) - ABC-TV

Dillinger (CBS-TV, 1960)

Ralph Meeker stars as John Dillinger in this made-for-TV flick directed by David Davidson and first telecast on June 24, 1960. Philip Abbott (Harry Pierpont), Steven Hill (Melvin Purvis) and Jane Rose (Anna Sage) round out the sparse cast.

Baby Face Nelson (Concorde-New Horizons, 1996)

C. Thomas Howell has the title role of Depression-era gangster Baby Face Nelson in this Roger Corman produced-flick directed by Scott P. Levy. Martin Kove appears as John Dillinger, with Lisa Zane (Helen Womack), Doug Wert (Paul Chance), F. Murray Abraham (Al Capone) and David Parry (Artie Folsom) along for the ride into gangster hell. As history it's pure Hollywood hokum, but for mindless entertainment Baby Face Nelson just may fit the bill. Watch an FBI agent fire 13 shots from a six-shot revolver without reloading!

More Best John Dillinger Movie & TV Favorites 

  • Crime Wave: 18 Months of Mayhem (TV, 2008), Lynn Bumgardner as John Dillinger
  • The Kansas City Massacre (TV, 1975), William Jordan as John Dillinger
  • The FBI Story (1959), Scott Peters as John Dillinger
  • The Real Untouchables (TV, 2001), Michael Dailey as John Dillinger
  • Guns Don't Argue (1957), Myron Healey as John Dillinger

John Dillinger on Episodic Television

  • Gang Busters (NBC-TV, 1952): "Alvin Karpis" (4/17/52),  "Homer Van Meter" (10/16/52), "Dillinger" (10/23/52), Myron Healey as John Dillinger in all three segments
  • Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC-TV, 1993-97): "That Old Gang of Mine" (11/13/94), Robert Clohessy as John Dillinger
  • Night Man (Syndicated, 1997-99): "That Ol' Gang of Mine" (11/24/97), Brian Fitzpatrick as John Dillinger

Top Image

  • Johnny Depp as John Dillinger cradling a Thompson submachine gun in Public Enemies (2009) - Universal Pictures

Copyright © 2011 William J. Felchner

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Comments (2)

Liked Depp but loved Oates.

Very well composed information for complete entertainment and education too.