Dillinger (1945)

Dillinger (1945)

“Watch for the woman in red.”

When a petty thief (Lawrence Tierney) meets a high-level criminal (Edmund Lowe) in prison, he soon graduates to bank heists, becoming America’s Public Enemy Number One. Along the way, he meets and starts dating a beautiful box office girl (Anne Jeffreys) who will one day play a pivotal role in his downfall


  • Biopics
  • Elisha Cook, Jr. Films
  • Gangsters
  • Lawrence Tierney Films
  • Rise-and-Fall

Lawrence Tierney’s breakthrough role was playing the title character in this low-budget Monogram Pictures flick about notorious gangster John Dillinger. It remains a surprisingly taut and effective film about Dillinger’s rise-and-fall — including an interesting meet-cute with “the lady in red” (he holds her up in her ticket booth, she refuses to identify him in a line-up, and the rest is “I was meant to be a moll” history).

The supporting performances are all fine — particularly Lowe (who looks eerily like a serious Lionel Barrymore) as “Specs” — and Tierney instantly proved his ability to embody psychopathic impulses without a blink. Especially tense and well-played scenes are those focused on Dillinger seeking revenge: Dillinger revisiting a bar (“You don’t remember me, do you?”) where a waiter once made the mistake of referring to then-penniless-Dillinger as a “two-bit chiseler”; Dillinger confronting Specs with the hyper-realistic wooden gun he made while in prison. This 70-minute flick is well worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by Tierney, Lowe, and Jeffreys

  • Numerous tension-filled scenes
  • Effective cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an effective low-budget gangster film. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.



One thought on “Dillinger (1945)

  1. First viewing. Agreed – must-see, “as an effective low-budget gangster film”. Agreed as well that Lowe does resemble a serious Lionel Barrymore. …As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “You’re pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

    ‘Dillinger’ (1945): Since his film / tv career was surprisingly long (for someone so volatile), I’d probably seen legendary bad boy Lawrence Tierney here and there before really recognizing who he was. I first took real notice of him in Robert Wise’s ‘Born to Kill’ (1947) opposite Claire Trevor. Tierney was, of course, supposed to be what the title suggested; he was certainly that and more – while watching, I was more than a little nervous for Trevor’s well-being. But his breakthrough role was here as Dillinger – in which he is similarly menacing. (Not all that long ago, one critic wrote that Tierney was “not so much an actor as a frightening force of nature.”) Oddly, though he’s effective, Tierney is not the main reason to watch the film. It has an Oscar-nommed script by Philip Yordan which dominates. When a film is only 70 minutes (as this one is), it doesn’t have time to mess around – and this script doesn’t; it’s forcefully economical, playing out largely in very brief, to-the-point scenes that are free of ‘fat’. When the film was released, it was banned in a few places (particularly Chicago) because it was seen as glorifying violence in general. (Yet, if you watch the film, you’ll notice how director Max Nosseck deliberately downplays what could easily have been more gruesome.) Tierney gets solid support from the gang members played by Edmund Lowe, Elisha Cook Jr., Eduardo Ciannelli and Marc Lawrence. But of particular note as well is Anne Jeffreys as Dillinger’s main squeeze Helen Rogers – ‘The Lady in Red’ who brings about Dillinger’s downfall.

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