Before Johnny Depp, Lawrence Tierney Was “Dillinger”

by | July 1, 2009 at 5:28 PM | The Movies


Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is said to be the most accurate account of the life of gangster folk hero John Dillinger that Hollywood has managed to date, but the first film version of his celebrated career as a gangster remains a “lean and mean” classic bit of noir. In 1945, a little more than a decade after Dillinger was gunned down outside of a Chicago movie theater, Max Nosseck directed this low-budget but high-quality crime saga that depicted the bank robber as a mean, hard-bitten and amoral man of violence and anger.

Accurate – not entirely, but compelling? You bet – mainly on the strength of Lawrence Tierney in the title role. Modern day audiences know him as the unforgettable old boss of the Reservoir Dogs, but in one of his earliest screen roles, he dominates the film and carries Philip Yordan’s Oscar-nominated screenplay to gritty fruition. Tierney is eminently believable as a hardass tough guy because that’s who he was in reality – he had a rap sheet nearly as long as his filmography, including breaking a guy’s jaw in a ginmill, smacking cops around when he was drunk and even throwing down with a pro boxer in the middle of Broadway. Tierney was a guy who was tough as nails on screen and could back it up tenfold in person, and that held true even to the end, according to Eddie Muller’s fascinating account of spending time with the man in 1999.

So watch one of the true badasses of Hollywood legend play one of the most notorious criminals in American history in Dillinger right here on Fancast, before you go watch Johnny Depp step into his shoes this weekend.