Monday, July 6, 2009

The '30s in the '70s

Harris Yulin in Melvin Purvis: G-Man (left) and Shelley Winters in Bloody Mama (right)

The latest big-screen John Dillinger treatment -- Michael Mann's Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger -- took in a respectable $25M this past weekend, and cable telly was rife with related programming. These TV tie-ins included a History Channel documentary entitled Crime Wave: 18 Months of Mayhem (which concerned Dillinger and contemporaries like Baby Face Nelson and Clyde Barrow) and a re-broadcast of the 1974 telefilm Melvin Purvis: G-Man (an awfully loose-with-the-facts account of the apprehension of Machine Gun Kelly).

But even with all this attention currently re-directed to the Depression-era bank robbers, we'd have to manically crank out a giant fistful of Public Enemies cash-ins if we wanted to approach the all-out mania over '30s bank-robbers that the 1970s experienced.

Warren Oates in a publicity shot for 1973's Dillinger

Yeah, between '70-'79, there were nearly a dozen films made about bank robbing during the Great Depression. Was this just a decade's worth of imitators of the influential 1967 movie Bonnie & Clyde? Or was there something about social conditions of the day (the 1973 Oil Crisis, etc) that made the 1930s seem particularly relevant? I'd guess both, as the '70s produced all sorts of Depression-era movies that had zilch-o to do with bank robbing: Hard Times, The Sting, Book of Numbers, Lucky Lady, Inserts (and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? if we grandfather in the year 1969!).

But this is all just a long-winded way of introducing the below -- my attempt to make a definitive list of the 1970s films about 1930s bank robbers:

Bloody Mama (1970)
With Shelley Winters as Kate ‘Ma’ Barker, American International Pictures

A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1970)

With Fabian as Charles Arthur Floyd, American International Pictures

Dillinger (1973)
With Warren Oates as John Dillinger, Ben Johnson as Melvin Purvis, Richard Dreyfus as Baby Face Nelson, and Steve Kanaly as Pretty Boy Floyd, American International Pictures

Bad Charleston Charlie (1973)

With Ross Hagen and Hoke Howell as fictional characters, International Cinema

Big Bad Mama (1974)
With Angie Dickinson, Tom Skeritt and William Shatner as fictional characters, New World Pictures

Melvin Purvis, G-Man (1974)

aka The Legend of Machine Gun Kelly
With Dale Robertson as Melvin Purvis and Harris Yulin as George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, TV Movie

The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd (1974)

With Martin Sheen as Charles Arthur Floyd, TV Movie

The F.B.I. Story: The FBI Versus Alvin Karpis, Public Enemy Number One (1974)

aka Alvin Karpis: Public Enemy No. 1
aka The FBI Story - Alvin Karpis

With Robert Foxworth as Alvin Karpis, Eileen Heckart as Ma Barker and Harris Yulin as J. Edgar Hoover, TV Movie

The Kansas City Massacre (1975)

With Dale Robertson as Melvin Purvis, Bo Hopkins as Charles Arthur 'Pretty Boy' Floyd, William Jordan as John Dillinger, and Elliot Street as 'Baby Face' Nelson, TV Movie

The Lady in Red (1979)

With Robert Conrad as John Dillinger and Alan Vint as Melvin Purvis, New World Pictures.

As should be evident, this cinematic explosion would not have happened if not for the studios with which Roger Corman was associated (AIP, New World) and if not for TV movies. Since neither are strong forces in today's cinema, I guess we'll have to see if Asylum (the ripoff-meisters responsible Transmorphers and Snakes on a Train) want to jump on the Dillinger bandwagon. (Haw.)

And as a completist, I should mention that the 1970s European cinema got into the '30s crime movement too -- with such films as Borsalino, Even Angels Eat Beans and Pete, Pearl and the Pole -- but they were usually about gangsterism in general and not necessarily bank robbery in particular.