Sunday, March 19, 2006

Broke from jail without a gun, public enemy number one...

Tonight I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel called "The Dillinger Conspiracy." The actor playing John Dillinger in the re-enactments was hot, but that's entirely beside the point, although I felt I should mention it. And if Dillinger himself wasn't such a, ya know, murderer, he'd actually be quite attractive. He did reach a kind of rock star status in the eyes of the public. But anyway, among the commentators was Bryan Burrough, who wrote "Public Enemies," which I'm currently reading, and a woman named Ellen Poulsen, author of "Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang," which I totally need to get my hands on right now. Because I didn't know this -- I didn't know the details about Dillinger to begin with, only that he was the most dangerous, notorious bank robber in the midwest, and that shootout with the FBI at a rural Wisconsin inn -- but it was a woman who helped bring about his downfall. A woman! That is so classic! Almost cliché, but that was the real deal.

And then I watched Dead End (1937), and I couldn't help comparing Humphrey Bogart's character to Dillinger, as both of them had plastic surgery to alter their features so they could slip past the law more easily (didn't work in the real gangster's case). Bogart did the plastic surgery thing again but on a whole 'nother level in Dark Passage 10 years later. But wow, he looked so young in Dead End that I didn't even recognize him at first, as I'm used to seeing him a little more craggy in his later films.

Good movie, though, grittier than I'd expected (real cockroaches!), with some heartwrenching moments. Sylvia Sydney (Juno in Beetlejuice -- remember?) was a beautiful and expressive actress. I liked her in this. The Dead End Kids remain a mixed bag for me, having first seen them in Angels With Dirty Faces and finding that I wanted to smack each one of 'em, but that's probably what their purpose was, to make you want to smack them. But they were better in Dead End, I think, not as annoying, and with better developed characters. Bogart himself had a small role, even though he gets the big close-up on the DVD cover, and he served mainly as a catalyst. Overall, there wasn't much of a Big Giant Action Plot. It was much more subtle, relying on what the characters were going through emotionally, how they related to each other, and how they related to their environment, the slummy Lower East Side of Manhattan. And also like The Petrified Forest, it was based on a stage play, so much of the action takes place on one set and over the course of one day and night. The more I think about it, the more I'm liking this movie. Glad I bought it.

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