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LAWRENCE TIERNEY CINEMA: B-MOVIE MONSTER OF DILLINGER

The DILLINGER Gang led by Lawrence Tierney YEAR: 1945
In the 1930's through to the 1960's and 1970's, before and after the infamous Hayes Code, on the silver screen, gangsters and especially bank robbers were usually adventurous anti-heroes...

Larry takes aim
And in-between, the common crooks and petty thieves were desperate and woefully sympathetic, always in dire need of money to feed themselves or their family instead of just robbing for kicks... In other words, the bad guys were good guys forced to do bad things for... understandable reasons...

So in what's known as The Lawrence Tierney DILLINGER... compared to the more realistic and historically accurate Warren Oates DILLINGER... there's a strong touch of Noir since our man starts out naive and downright stupid: thrown in prison for attempting to knock-off a corner store to buy his beautiful, shallow date a few more drinks at a fancy restaurant. Then, behind bars, what he learns — especially from Edmund Lowe as a bank robbing mentor named Specs — turns the real life criminal/folk hero into what The Tierney DILLINGER is: a downright formidable monster in his very own proverbial Monster Movie...

Tierney shoots his way through his own Crime Noir
Right from the opening credits, as the film's title glows to the banging gong chorus of thunder, lighting and rain, looking straight out of James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN: What Tierney brings to the role... while lacking biographical elements and looking nothing like the legendary outlaw... is made up for in coldblooded, ruthless expressions: The start of the signature Tierney grimace (and growl) provides a one-note, sinister mask that some consider a limited range of acting.

Meanwhile, American History buffs are repelled by this semi-Noir programmer, especially those keen on seeing DILLINGER as a likable icon who found a way out of The Great Despression: Our temperamental beast winds up slaughtering a pretty boy with an axe and killing a friendly old couple, and is more intent to murder than steal. Otherwise, beyond the ultra-violence, it's an entertaining popcorn thriller that sticks to a basic bank heist formula but not without throwing in a few particularly creative scores where the camera provides neat angles, dark lighting and terrific use of montage.

Personal Collection DVD Signed by Anne Jeffreys
DILLINGER has a no nonsense script that, like the king of b-monster flicks, KING KONG, doesn't veer into superfluous dialogue and, like a shark... a killer shark... keeps moving forward at a brisk, lethal pace and without a particular "Van Helsing" to stop the menace: Melvin Purvis G-Man is nowhere to be found (while Ben Johnson has almost equal screen-time with Warren Oates in the 70's version)...

BankHeistScore: ****1/2
It's a hoot watching Tierney smoothly combining intense anger with insanity: Like in real life, drinking and brawling or intimidating fellow actors, actresses, directors, producers and anyone in his way, this particular DILLINGER is a kind of exploitation all its own — played by a hotheaded firebrand like Tierney, who was just starting out (at one point he threatened a producer for an early paycheck). His behind-the-scenes reputation would quickly ruin a budding career, literally taking till Quentin Tarantino's early-90's crime flick RESERVOIR DOGS to reignite and/or legitimize his practically forgotten legacy. "Dead as Dillinger," Tierney's Joe Cabot explains of an ill-fated thief.

Despite Larry's rep, Anne had only nice things to say
While this bank robbing gang, looking more like city hoods than rural ones... including Marc Lawrence and Elisha Cook Jr... back him up, his worst enemy is himself, and the woman he loves: In this case a reluctant moll in blond beauty Anne Jeffreys (who'd join Tierney again in the jovial sober THIN MAN style programmer titled STEP BY STEP): Her Fay Wray type remains calm, cool, and in control the entire ride and, captured in that era's usual grainy Black & White, you have to take poor JD's word when he tells his dame, right before she slips into the Chicago night, "You look great... in Red." For in a True Crime Biopic so historically inaccurate, one can't help but realize the otherwise sheer perfection of hiring a monster to play a monster who, during his bank robbing reign, was a popular crook who could get in and out of trouble with ease.
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