The first view of John Dillinger (Warren Oates) is through the bank teller's window, approached with pistol and self-mythologizing glee: "These few dollars you lose here are going to buy you stories to tell your children and grandchildren." Gunning through the Depression-battered Midwest, the Public Enemy Number One understands his own budding iconography (voiced by Frank McRae's grinning fugitive: "I'm already a murderer. I might as well be famous"), and snatches the mistress (Michelle Phillips) who's reminded of Douglas Fairbanks. Others in the gang include "Baby Face" Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), a runty desperado who's put in his place, and "Pretty Boy" Floyd (Steve Kanaly); bulldog G-Man Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson) is on their trail, with a box of cigars to be savored over each fallen outlaw. Dillinger is the first of several self-styled, loping bruisers seen through John Milius' schoolboyish eye, the director does him justice with plenty of dapper technique -- a hundred shades of dust-bowl lighting, voluminous shootouts that blast through enough squibs to make Master Peckinpah proud, a spacious grasp that accomodates Harry Dean Stanton's ornery comedy (revenge against a gumball machine, a circle of NRA farmers in a long-shot gag). Like other Movie-Brat evocations of the 1970s, it is also a story of cinematic fathers and sons: To Milius, and to Bogdanovich and Spielberg, Johnson stands for the Old Hollywood (Ford, expressly) the younger directors simultaneously revere and call into question. Milius' eruptions of anarchic modernism (Dreyfuss' operatic flourish amid pastoral expanses, with pajamas and Tommy-gun) is mixed with a yearning for the purity of the medium's past, the aching need to score the outlaw's homecoming to "Red River Valley." The reunion of Johnson and Cloris Leachman towards the end is not accidental -- as Dillinger steps out of the movie theater and into history, it all suddenly comes together as Milius' Last Picture Show. Cinematography by Jules Brenner. With Geoffrey Lewis, John P. Ryan, John Martino, and Roy Jenson.
--- Fernando F. Croce