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"Public Enemies" prime time feature (7/1/09)


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To coincide with the theatrical release of Michael Mann's Public Enemies (a John Dillinger biopic starring Johnny Depp), TCM is having a "Public Enemies" theme for prime time this Wednesday, July 1st.

 

It includes a showing of the TCM documentary The Golden Age of the Gangster Film.

 

*Manhattan Melodrama* (1934) 8pm ET

Boyhood friends grow up on opposite sides of the law.

Cast: Clark Gable, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Leo Carrillo Dir: W. S. Van Dyke BW-90 mins, TV-G

 

*Fog Over Frisco* (1934) 9:45pm ET

A San Francisco heiress discovers her sister is hanging out with gangsters.

Cast: Bette Davis, Donald Woods, Margaret Lindsay, Lyle Talbot Dir: William Dieterle BW-68 mins, TV-G

 

*G-Men* (1935) 11pm ET

A mob protege joins the FBI when a friend is gunned down.

Cast: James Cagney, Margaret Lindsay, Ann Dvorak, Robert Armstrong Dir: William Keighley BW-86 mins, TV-PG

 

*The Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gansgter Film* (2008) 12:30pm ET

Documentary that explores the development of the crime film at Warner Bros. and the rise of iconic stars of the genre such as James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart

BW-106 mins, TV-MA

 

*The Petrified Forest* (1936) 2:30am ET

An escaped convict holds the customers at a remote desert cantina hostage.

Cast: Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Genevieve Tobin, Dick Foran Dir: Archie L. Mayo BW-82 mins, TV-G

 

*High Sierra* (1941) 4am ET

An aging ex-con sets out to pull one more big heist.

Cast: Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy Dir: Raoul Walsh BW-100 mins, TV-G

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Directed by John Milius, this is another great Warren Oates performance as Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger.

 

The film has a fantastic supporing cast with an equally great Ben "I'm going to smoke one of these cigars over each one of these crooks dead bodies" Johnson as G-Man Melvin Purvis in what has to be his best perfomance that I've seen (he practically steals the picture) and also MNIN's Geoffrey Lewis as Harry Pierpont, Harry Dean Stanton as Homer Van Meter, Richard Dryfuss as Baby Face Nelson, Steve Kanaly as Pretty Boy Floyd, Frank McRea as Reed Youngblood, Michelle Phillips as Billie Frechette, and Cloris Leachman as the "Lady in Red"

 

The film is entertaining through out, as good or even better than Bonnie & Clyde. with a lot more action sequences and a minimal love story that doesn't tie it down.

 

It could have stood to be a little longer and devloped the characters a bit more, it starts in the middle of Dillingers crime spree, so we don't really find out what drove him in that direction, but since it was the depression its probably similar to all the wayward biographies of the gangsters of that time period. Its a little loose with the actual facts ie., Harry Pierpont was actually executed by electrocution, not killed by the cops on a bridge, and "Baby Face" was killed 4 months after Dillinger. But its a drama not a documentary.

 

I'm hearing that **** Enemies also played around with the time line in similar fashion.

 

There is a sequence near the beginning during a getaway where a woman is brutally run over and the death scene of Baby Face Nelson is not to be missed, the death grin on Dreyfuss' face is pretty creepy.

 

All in all a great watch & worth it. A must for Warren Oates fans.

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Spoilers

 

Ok went and watched Public Enemies first impressions.

 

Cinematography it had an uneven look definitely due to the HD digital, the biggest noticeable contrast being the Little Bohemia shootout with the rest of the film. The hand held camerawork was way overdone, there was no reason for it in certain scenes particularity during the night club sequence where you had Billie & John t?te-?-t?te conversing, why, why must the picture be bouncing up and down? Why when Bille is captured do we get a munchkin POV looking up? What's the point of that? Now some complain about this effect making them nauseous for me it just makes me annoyed. I think minimal use in key segments could accent certain sequences but when its continuous it becomes redundant. It also robs us of the appreciation of the props and the art of set design, if everything is a blur or constantly bouncing about it makes set design an exercise in futility. What is the point of showing beautifully restored automobiles as a bouncing blur, at least the shot of the steam engine arriving at the station was not hand held .

 

There is a current trend in Hollywood in making certain Genres, historical costume dramas, almost docudramas when dealing with the past, its the same in the Western Genre trying for too much reality takes away the magic of the Western iconography. Westerns were about Myths and Legends same as the old gangster films. Too much reality is killing Westerns and you can see this to some extent in Public Enemies. In the schizophrenic Public Enemies we get a bit more detail and emphasis on accuracy in some areas and then wild fabrications in others but what is lacking in this film is the small touches that give some character development to Dillinger's gang, they seemed to all blend in to a blur the same could be said of the FBI team. Public Enemies spent a bit more time with the Billie-John relationship at the expense of the Dillinger Gang, but I somehow get the feeling that that was all contrived Hollywood BS anyway.

 

The little extra vignettes that the 1973 Dillinger had gave a bit of character development to the legend of Dillinger's gang, the gumball machine, Dillinger's visits to his family, Dillinger's sister, the bar scene, Dillinger splitting the money from the robbery that he did at his jail escape with the mechanic the warden and Reese, Purvis' vow of smoking his gift cigars from his shot down buddy "over the dead bodies of every one" of the public enemies gave Dillinger that mythic Gangster Film cachet. Were any of these historical, possibly, but others particularly Purvis was wildly inaccurate. But a larger than life Dillinger needed a larger than life Purvis. In Public enemies neither Dillinger nor Purvis reaches Iconic status. It also helped that the character actors in Dillinger were well enough known and in enough prior films to be distinguishable from one another and add gravitas to their roles. When the legend becomes fact film the legend was Milius's MO.

 

PE decided to enhance the Bille and John relationship with typical Hollywood schmaltz. You KNOW the Bye Bye Blackbird stuff was all BS. PE is trying for it both ways, it also screws around with Purvis & the time line and ends up emphasizing Bille & Johnny at the expense of the "Enemies".

 

In Dillinger you see that BS can be magical in the right hands.

 

Now let us examine how the two films handled the Little Bohemia Shootout. In Dillinger the FBI arrive just at dawn and the shootout commences when three hapless innocents walk out of the lodge all the action is in the light. In Public Enemies Mann stages the shootout at night the action being ignited by three men leaving the lodge in a car.

 

Now I'll digress for a moment, let me tell you a little parable, there once was a leveling crew on a survey project that was working on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana. They were running a level circuit on a construction P-line and decided to try and finish the three mile project before sunset and the ensuing darkness. In short they didn't make it, finding themselves about 2.5 miles from the existing road on a steep fir pine and spruce covered hillside, and had to continue walking out carrying their equipment. When it got dark it got DARK under the tree cover, pitch black, as if you were in a closet. Besides obviously trees everywhere there was also blow down, underbrush etc., etc., to negotiate around and through. They could not walk normally they had to feel ahead with their feet for any obstacles in their way at the pace of a crawl. Every once in a while they would break into a natural clearing and a sliver of moon lit it up enough so that you could see but as soon as the hit the tree line on the other side again in was back into the abyss.

 

There is no way in Public Enemies that anybody is going to be running around in the dark through the woods, its totally ridiculous you would be slamming into trees tripping over logs etc., etc. Its just not believable, but the muzzle flashes of the tommy guns looked nice, lol. Apparently that is what Mann was going for.

 

The film overall was entertaining but it could have been way more than it is, it needed a tad more myth and less reality. 6.5-7/10

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cigarjoe,

I had somewhat mixed feelings about the movie, although by far and large I enjoyed it, and I'll probably be watching it again on blu-ray just to go over some of the areas that you and others have mentioned. The look that Mann achieves with the HD photography is different, and some credit it for giving a more accurate look to the nighttime scenes. I'm not sure about that myself, but I do suppose they require a lot less lighting.

 

As for demystifying some of the genre ("too much reality"), if I understood your correctly, I think that's just one of the things that modern directors try to do sometimes in part to find a new tone and in part to show that they're not just copying everything that older directors used to do.

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The actual raid was carried out in the dark by the FBI.The agents were not trained in firearms,that didn't happen till the next month. The agents had no walkie talkies, they didn't know the terrain and it was dark. One agent was killed a couple more was badly wounded and a few innocent s were shot by the feds. All told it was a complete failure.According to the story the agents were going to raid at dawn but learned the gangsters were leaving that night and that's when they made the decision to go in at dark.While the dogs were barking 3 bar patrons,not gang members' left and got into their car and started it up. The agents thinking it was gang members opened fire,killing one and wounding two. The gunfire alerted the gang inside and the firefight started.All told the raid was a complete failure.Dillinger escaped out the back, but the FBI arrested a few of the women that were with the gang. Even Will Rogers said "The FBI had Dillinger surrounded but they shot the bystanders by mistake. I guess the only way they"ll get Dillinger is if he's with some innocent bystanders then he'll get shot....

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I'm pretty sure that scene was in the movie, too. It just made it seem like a lot of the FBI agents at the time were rather inexperienced, unfortunately. The way the movie presents it, J. Edgar Hoover didn't much care if he put his agents at risk, he just wanted to make headlines.

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That may be not that far from the truth.Hoover did like to see his name in the papers.Also the more the FBI were in the papers, the more he and they stayed in the public's eye. That's the main reason from what I read he didn't like Melvin Purvis was because he got most of the publicity with the killing of Dillinger and Purvis wasn't shy about having his name in the papers either.Purvis resigned in 1935 and practiced law. He died in 1960 as a result of a gunshot wound, some said it was suicide while others said it was an accident while he was trying to remove a bullet from his gun. I haven't seen the film yet and excuse me if they covered this in the movie....

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Well, I think some of it was covered in the movie, they certainly got the idea across that Melvin Purvis was more into self-promotion than anything else, but of course this also meant catching Dillinger.

 

The rest of his life is neatly summed up in the little summaries that appear at the end of the picture.

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