powered by AFI
The working titles of this film were John Dillinger, Killer D, John Dillinger, Mobster and John Dillinger. The film's final movie theater scene features excerpts from a Walt Disney "Mickey Mouse" cartoon. During the same scene, offscreen movie dialogue is heard, but no footage or dialogue is used from M-G-M's 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama, the picture listed on the marquee (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2734)). Although reviews list Eduardo Ciannelli's character name as "Murph," he is called "Marco Minnelli" in the picture. Lawrence Tierney's onscreen credit appears after the director's credit, and actress Else Janssen's name is misspelled "Jannsen" in the credits.
As depicted in the film, John Dillinger was born and reared in Indiana and began his criminal career in 1924, at the age of twenty-one. After being arrested for robbing a grocery store, Dillinger spent nine years in prison, then led a gang of robbers based in the Midwest. Having been named "public enemy number one" by J. Edgar Hoover, Dillinger escaped twice from jails and, in April 1934, shot his way out of a police trap in Wisconsin. On July 22, 1934, he was killed by FBI agents outside Chicago's Biograph Theater, where he and a woman friend had been watching Manhattan Melodrama. The woman reportedly betrayed Dillinger to the FBI and became known as the "lady in red" because of the red dress she wore to identify herself to the FBI agents. Years after his reported death, rumors sprang up that Dillinger's brother was the actual victim of the shootout, and that Dillinger escaped unharmed.
According to MPAA/PCA records at the AMPAS Library, The Hays Office proclaimed in a March 20, 1934 telegram that, in accordance with the "executive committee of the Assocation, no picture based on the life or exploits of John Dillinger" was to be "produced, distributed or exhibited by any member company" because of the belief that "such a picture would be detrimental to the best public interest." Although Hays's decree apparently was no longer in effect by 1944, PCA director Joseph I. Breen advised in a June 28, 1944 letter to producer Franklyn King that PCA approval of Dillinger would be based on whether "numerous violations of the Special Regulations Re Crime in Motion Pictures" were eliminated from the script. Breen then warned King that "political censor boards everywhere" would be "critical" of the film, and PCA records indicate that many letters of protest were sent to the PCA and the studio.
An unidentified contemporary news item reported that after viewing Dillinger, a gang of youths in South Bend, IN, imitated Dillinger's routine of "casing" his robbery sites, as depicted in the film, before committing a series of thefts themselves. Director Frank Borzage wrote to the PCA, denouncing the film and advocating the "total elimination of the glamorized gangster movie." According to the Variety review, Dillinger was "banned in Chicago." PCA records indicate that, except for Ontario, no other state or territory in North America rejected the picture. The War Dept. "disapproved" the film for export because of the "lawlessness" depicted, according to records contained at NARS in Washington, D.C.
Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts add the following information about the film's production: In June 1944, Hollywood Reporter announced that William K. Howard and Robert Tasker had completed a script for the film. The contribution of these writers to the final screenplay, if any, has not been determined. Terry Frost was announced as the film's star in August 1944 and appears in production charts as a cast member along with Tierney, but his appearance in the completed film is doubtful. George Purvis, the nephew of Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who was credited with killing Dillinger, was cast in the film, as were Anthony Dante, George deNormand, Tony Santoro and Larry Bennett. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed, however. Harry Hayden was announced as a cast member in late October 1944, but he was not seen in the viewed print. Scenes depicting the "Ottos'" lodge were shot in Big Bear in Southern California.
"Dillinger" was Tierney's first starring role and became the part with which he was most associated. Tierney, whom the Daily Variety review described as a "youthful Bogart," went on to portray many other sadistic criminals during his screen career. The King Bros. borrowed Tierney and Anne Jeffreys from RKO for the production. Modern sources note that stock footage from Fritz Lang's 1937 United Artists release You Only Live Once (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.5240) was reused in the film during a bank robbery sequence. Philip Yordan was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. According to Hollywood Reporter, Allied Artists re-released Dillinger in 1952.
Dillinger was the primary subject of four other films. In 1973, John Milius directed Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman in an American International release, Dillinger. The Last Days of John Dillinger was broadcast on the CBS network on November 24, 1971, as the debut entry in Rod Serling's "Appointment with Destiny" series. Nicholas Webster directed Bill Wendt and William Shust in the broadcast. On January 6, 1991, the ABC network broadcast Dillinger, directed by Rupert Wainwright and starring Mark Harmon, Sherilyn Fenn and Will Patton. Tierney appears in a bit role as a sheriff in that production. In 1995, Concorde-New Horizons Corp. released Dillinger and Capone, starring Martin Sheen and F. Murray Abraham.