John Dillinger was Public Enemy Number One during the Depression era of the 1930’s. That era in history is being brought back by a movie by Michael Mann starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the Special Agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office that will be released in July, 2009. The FBI website details some of the efforts made to make sure that movie was historically accurate.
The Biograph Theatre, where gangster John Dillon was shot down in 1934, still stands. My late mother in-law could remember the night Dillinger was shot and killed in front of the Biograph. She was a young girl who was in a hospital across the street. She did not see the shooting itself, but she was able to see the commotion afterwards.
There are still Chicagoans who can remember the look and feel of Chicago and the Biograph theatre during the Depression era, which is preserved in memories and photographs.
Michael Mann is a native of Chicago who spared no expense in recreating the Biograph Theater and the 1930’s era for the film. Mann recognized the FBI for the “spectacular cooperation” in helping to give the film an authentic look and feel.
According to the FBI website, a FBI spokesman said that when he compared the movie sets with archived photos that he could not tell the difference.
The Biograph stands on Lincoln Avenue, on the Northwest side of Chicago, The film crew “essentially rented out the entire block,” according to Ross Rice. The façade of every building was redone to look exactly as it did on the night that Dillinger was killed. Every detail, from the streetlights to trolley tracks and bricks on the street was paid attention to.
Dillinger had taken his girlfriend and one of her friends to the movie at the Biograph on the steamy summer night. Ironically they had seen a gangster movie, Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Cable.
His girlfriend’s friend, Anna Sage, had betrayed the gangster and given the agents his whereabouts on the night. The FBI staked out the Biograph Theater while the three were watching the movie.
As Dillinger and the two women exited the theatre the FBI approached them and when Dillinger realized what was happening he grabbed a pistol. Dillinger was shot down by the guns of three FBI agents. He was pronounced dead in his little room 20 minutes later at Alexian Brothers Hospital.
Mann strove for “period-accurate psychology,” to help illuminate the inner thoughts of Dillinger and Purvis. According to the FBI article that process included talking with agents while researching for the film. Their “zeal and passion” helped Mann to understand how much Agent Melvin Purvis wanted to catch Dillinger.
Public Enemies is scheduled to premiere in July, 2009, 70 years after Dillinger was shot at the Biograph in Chicago.
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