The Chicago Syndicate: John Dillinger
Showing posts with label John Dillinger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Dillinger. Show all posts

Sunday, July 12, 2009

John Dillinger Was Bad for the Business of the Chicago Outfit

After watching the excellent new Johnny Depp movie "Public Enemies" -- the story of romanticized desperado John Dillinger's murder in Chicago with the help of the Outfit -- Wings and I realized something.

We were hungry. So we walked over to Volare, the fine Italian restaurant at Grand and St. Clair on Wednesday evening, where three amazing things happened:

1. We had the most superb sausage and peppers in the universe. The sausage was beyond tasty, the peppers perfectly cooked, the sauce to kill for.

2. A group of people came in, the women in red dresses, the men in 1930s gangster outfits, fedoras for the guys, the women with much cleavage, feathered hats, tiny veils, red lips. It was a surprise party for Craig Alton, the fellow who runs Untouchable Tours, taking tourists to famous mob murder scenes, including where Dillinger fell facedown, near the Biograph Theater on Lincoln. We went over to say hello. He seemed like a nice fellow, dressed in a straw hat with suspenders, a fat, painted tie and a curly mustache. They were all going to the movie afterward. I asked: Don't you tour some of the newer sites, like the Melrose Park restaurant where Tony Zizzo disappeared a few years ago? Or the 2001 hit of street boss Anthony "The Hatch" Chiaramonti in Lyons? "No," Alton said, sheepishly. "The guys who did that are still alive."

3. At another table nearby was a handsome Italian family. Mother, father, sons and grandsons, proud, straight backed, polite. They proved their good manners by quietly chanting "chumbolone" at us.

The father, who said his name was John, announced to his family and half the restaurant that he grew up on Chicago's Taylor Street and then in River Forest.

"You wrote about Al Capone, and you also wrote about the real boss, the old man," said John. "You went past Capone and wrote about the real boss."

Paul Ricca?

"Yes," said John. "Paul Ricca."

Capone got all the attention. Ricca, a quiet fellow, never wanted to be a star. He let Capone get the applause and wisecrack with reporters. Ricca made the decisions and built modern organized crime in America. Hollywood has never made a movie about Paul Ricca. That should tell you something.

The Ricca mention by a stranger in a nice restaurant brings me back to "Public Enemies," directed by Michael Mann.

Mann gets it. He was born in Chicago, and produced one of my favorite films, one that actually speaks truth about this city: "Thief," starring James Caan. In that film, real Chicago cops played gangsters, and real gangsters played Chicago detectives. In any other town this might be seen as ironic. Not here.

So in "Public Enemies," Mann allows truth to press up against the Dillinger myth, the one with which generations of Americans were led to believe that The Lady in Red caused Dillinger's demise.

All The Lady in Red got was deported back to Romania, if she got that far and didn't end up on the bottom of the Cal-Sag Canal. And the Chicago Outfit got what it wanted: happy cops and happy FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, who kept winning at the racetracks while insisting there was no organized crime in America.

Mann understands Chicago. I'm not going to spoil anything. Anyone with a room temperature IQ knows how this one ends. But it was Mann's method of revealing this real Chicago truth that I found fascinating. It was in a big speech, by one of the actors playing an Outfit guy, talking to Depp's Dillinger.

Big speeches are usually disasters and belong only in manipulative TV shows like "Law and Order," where the big speech is delivered before the final commercial by a wise old actor with crinkly eyes.

In a movie, the big speech can ruin things. It can pull you out of that willing suspension of disbelief directors work so hard to achieve, and it can plop you back into reality, tasting the stale popcorn and the stale message from the actor delivering the big speech.

You might guess that I'm not a big fan of the big speech. Except the one in "Public Enemies," with the Outfit giving the message to Dillinger.

It's set in a wire room, with bets coming in on the phone, and Dillinger is told that the old freelance days are done. Freelancers bring heat and embarrass the locals. Businesses don't need heat. It costs money.

"You're bad for business," Dillinger is told.

It was almost subtle by comparison to other big speeches. But it was necessary, because the romantic outlaw had to learn the truth from the guys who snap their fingers and have chiefs of detectives and mayors shine their shoes.

Freelancers were entertaining, once. But freelancers cost too much. They get crushed.

Like John Dillinger.

Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

FBI Reports on John Dillinger Crossing the Line

An elderly janitor walked into the cell block of the Lake County Jail at Crown Point, Indiana. The date: March 3, 1934. It was a relatively new facility, built onto the back of the sheriff’s house in 1926, easy to clean, impossible to escape from. The addition of a notorious prisoner—John Dillinger—would prove that. Or so the sheriff thought.

As the janitor entered the cell, the prisoner jumped him and jammed a gun—actually a piece of wood carved in the shape of one—into his ribs. Quickly, through a combination of bravado and desperation, Dillinger tricked half a dozen guards back to the cell block, confiscated their weapons, and jailed the jailors.

On that day, Dillinger was 30 years old. John Dillinger MugshotHe was of medium build and average height, with brown, thinning hair. His most distinguishing feature was a roguish smile, which he had put to good use in a series of press photos with the prosecuting attorney Robert Estill and the sheriff upon his extradition to Crown Point. The chummy nature of the photos contributed to both these officials losing their jobs that year. And Dillinger’s charm had already begun to captivate the American people, who began to see him as part Robin Hood, part vicious thug.

The notorious gangster had been captured in Arizona two months earlier. He was wanted in connection with the murder of an East Chicago, Indiana police officer named William O’Malley. At the time Dillinger was not on our radar; he had committed no federal crimes. But we had been assisting Ohio law enforcement in their search for him after was freed from a Lima jail by his confederates in the fall of 1933.

Now Dillinger had escaped once more. In making the break, he’d stolen the sheriff’s car and driven it to Chicago, 50 or so miles northwest of Crown Point. In the process, he crossed the Indiana/Illinois border and violated the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, commonly called the “Dyer Act.” John Dillinger was now a federal fugitive and an FBI subject.

Over the next several months, the Bureau tracked Dillinger and a wide array of violent criminals who worked with him—making mistakes along the way, but ultimately bringing these violent criminals to justice.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of that chase. More importantly, it is the 75th anniversary of the emergence of the FBI as an organization of national and international stature.

The Bureau’s success in dealing with the gangsters led to significant changes in the FBI and law enforcement nationwide.

Thanks to the FBI.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hollywood's Love Affair with Gangsters Continues to Grow

What is it about the gangster that has always captivated our public imagination?

In America, since the very first black- and-white silent films, we’ve been mesmerized by the fedoras, the guns, the women and the nightlife. These were the men who broke all the rules - when they weren’t writing their own rules - and lived the good life as a result.

In this way, they aren’t just criminals but also a certain special sort of capitalist. Take away the nasty, back-alley murders and they are living the American dream: building up mini corporate empires and reaping the profits.

We’re less than a week away from the next gangster movie epic: "Public Enemies," which opens in theaters Wednesday. Attracting the talents of such considerable film artists as director Michael Mann and actors Johnny Depp and Christian Bale it’s clear that gangsters remain as fascinating a force today as they were for the authors and filmmakers of a century ago.

What’s different this time around, however, is that "Public Enemies" focuses on not just one, but two emerging power structures. Less a claustrophobic view of the mafia power structure ("The Godfather"), "Public Enemies" is about a clash of two titans in the public sphere: bank robber John Dillinger (Depp) who wanted to be the renegade celebrity of his time, and J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), who brought all his forces to bear in his hunt for Dillinger because he was convinced that this was the case that could legitimize and nationalize the FBI.

It’s a face-off of epic proportions, but hardly the first. Here’s a quick look back at the evolution of the movie gangster:

Scarface
(1932)

More people are familiar with the 1983 remake starring Al Pacino, but the very first "Scarface," released in 1928, was a bleak affair. So, too, was the Howard Hawks remake in 1932, which viewed the gangster life as an apocalyptic one - a sure-fire path to the grave. Made back in the day when gangs and mafia kingpins really did rule with an iron fist, this was a movie that reflected its era.

The Public Enemy
(1931)

It’s truly shocking to go back and rent "The Public Enemy" some 77 years after it was first released. This is an intense, vicious, fierce movie - and it comes as a surprise how very little about this old-time movie seems soft or dated. It stars James Cagney as an up-and-comer in Chicago, working his way through the ranks of gangsters even as a murder threatens to unleash havoc amid those in the underground community. Cagney is cool and calculating, and downright nefarious when he needs to be. We can smell the smoke, and feel the ferocity of the time period.

Kiss Me Deadly
(1955)

One of my personal favorites, "Kiss Me Deadly" brought gangsters and the film noir genre into the nuclear age. Mike Hammer was a firebrand of a private eye, quick to fire off the first punch or the first bullet. And in "Kiss Me Deadly," a mysterious hitchhiker draws him into a web of violence and mystery, as everyone seems determined to take possession of a mysterious suitcase that glows whenever you open it (it was the inspiration behind the golden glowing suitcase in Quentin Tarantino’s "Pulp Fiction.")

The Godfather Part II - The Coppola Restoration
(1974)

Francis Ford Coppola was brilliant in the way he structured this sequel to "The Godfather," paralleling a modern-day story starring Al Pacino with a turn-of-the-century subplot involving Robert De Niro (playing Pacino’s father when still a young man). Establishing friendships with local businessmen, stocking up favors and slowly starting to exert his influence among the establishment, we come to see the way that thughood can be a grass-roots affair. Forget tyrant, De Niro is almost a populist in the way he helps the community and earns their undying allegiance in the process.

Road to Perdition (Widescreen Edition)
(2002)

A modern and moody spin on the standard gangster thriller, "Road to Perdition" went beyond the blood and the testosterone to offer us a wave of sincere emotion beneath the surface. Paul Newman plays the Chicago mob boss in 1931, and Tom Hanks works for him directly. Hanks’ world is flipped upside down when his son follows him one night and witnesses what daddy does for a living. More than just about a gangster ruling with an iron fist, "Road to Perdition" poses the question of whether violence is truly manly, or if it’s a weak man’s attempt to provide for a family. And as Hanks shares his trade with his son, we see the way that bad traditions are passed down through the generations, a cycle of dark despair.

Heat
(1995)

It’s also worth taking a moment to acknowledge the last gangster movie that was made by "Public Enemies" director Michael Mann. "Heat" viewed the gangster and the cop as equals, with Al Pacino in the part of the detective and Robert De Niro in the part of the master criminal. Sitting down to coffee as they try to intimidate - and relate to - one another, "Heat" is less about good and evil, crime and justice, than about seeing the men of the law and the men of the shadows as two personas cut from the same cloth. Both are obsessed, vigilant, and cut-throat; "Heat" is truly one of the great thrillers.

Thanks to Steven Snyder

Friday, June 19, 2009

Public Enemies Trailer

Johnny Depp Attends the Chicago Premiere of "Public Enemies"

Less than four miles from the Lincoln Park theater where the hunt for John Dillinger ended, a crowd of about 600 waited to get a glimpse of Johnny DeppJohnny Depp Walks the Red Carpet at the Chicago Premiere of Public Enemies. -- who portrays the notorious bank robber in "Public Enemies."

Depp walked the red carpet for the film's Chicago premiere on Thursday along with fellow "Enemies" stars Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard, and director and Humboldt Park native Michael Mann.

Parts of the movie were filmed last year at the actual Chicago locations Dillinger visited, including the front of the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue, where he was gunned down.

Depp was the last of the cast to arrive. Once he stepped out of the car, some of the crowd broke into high-pitched screaming, while others chanted "Johnny."

"It's nice to be able to come back here and say 'Thank you,' and this shindig is a way of doing it," said Depp.

While in Chicago the 46-year-old actor, as is traditional for out-of-towners, visited Wrigley Field. "It was mostly for fun," said Depp, who signed autographs for fans after speaking to the media. "It was great to go and see the Cubs and experience that. That was classic Dillinger ... He was a big Cubs fan."

Depp's rival in the film, Bale, is no stranger to Chicago after filming " Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" here. Bale said his favorite place to visit in the city was Millenium Park.

As for his F.B.I. character who tracks Dillinger down, Bale said he is a "good guy" in the film. "It's a Dillinger movie," said Bale. "Whether it's legend or not, Dillinger was a charismatic man. He was being cheered for back then and I'm sure it will happen again now with all the fat cat factors everyone is dealing with nowadays."

Thanks to Luis Arroyave

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Michael Mann on His Production of "Public Enemies" Starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger

Hollywood is full of filmmakers who are uncompromising perfectionists, but only Michael Mann could boast that he not only has a favorite room to screen his films -- the Zanuck theater on the Fox lot -- but also a favorite row in the theater where you should park your fanny.

Michaelmann "If you sit in row J at the Zanuck, you'll find yourself in the perfect mean, the center of the bell curve for every theater in America," he told me the other day, camped out in his Santa Monica offices, surrounded by memorabilia from decades of his work, which includes a host of wildly compelling films and TV shows, including "Crime Story," "Heat," "The Insider," "Ali" and "Collateral."

"If your film can play in row J, you're in the heart of the zone," he says. "I know some people that want to sit farther back, but that's the worst place to sit. If you're too far back, the surrounds are too large."

Even though we got together to talk about "Public Enemies," Public Enemies Stars Johnny Depp as John Dillingerhis new film that stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, our conversation ranged far afield, since Mann often sounds more like a Marxist history professor than a filmmaker, waxing just as eloquent about the broad historical forces that shaped Depression-era gangsters like Dillinger as how the notorious criminal managed to bust out of a high-security prison armed with a wooden pistol.

At 66, Mann still has the swagger and stamina of men half his age. Our interview was pushed back a couple of hours because the filmmaker had pulled an all-nighter, staying up until 9 a.m. overseeing digital transfer work on "Public Enemies," which has its first public showing June 23 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. (It opens nationwide July 1.) Even though he was going on scant hours of sleep, Mann looked fresh, as if staying up all night were a tonic.

"Actually it's exhilarating at this stage, when it all comes together," he explains in a voice that still had the echo of his upbringing in Chicago's working-class Humboldt Park neighborhood. "The film feels like it's containable, in your hands, almost like it was when it just an idea on three paragraphs on a piece of paper."

Mann is part of an elite Hollywood club of veteran directors -- notably Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Ridley Scott and David Fincher -- who are both held in high critical esteem and act as magnets for A-list movie star talent, allowing them a freedom to pursue the kind of dark, difficult material largely out of favor with today's franchise-obsessed movie studios. Mann has never enjoyed a mega hit -- of his nine features, only one, "Collateral," made more than $72 million domestically. His last film, "Miami Vice," was a box-office dud. But he has earned the right to make a wide range of absorbing films, largely thanks to the presence of such stars as Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jaime Foxx and now Depp in the leading roles.

It's easy to see what attracts such star power. Mann has a great ear for dialogue, a brilliant eye for action and the beguiling charm of a guy who's comfortable hanging out with all sorts of ex-cops and hoods. His technical advisor on "Public Enemies" was a convicted armed robber who once, as Mann explains with a twinkle in his eye, "stole a diamond as big as a grapefruit."

But what happens when studio bosses try to control a filmmaker who is uncontrollable? Keep reading:

Being in the Michael Mann business isn't for the faint of heart. After butting heads with Mann, any number of studio heads have sworn to never work with him again, exhausted by what they view as his budget-busting intransigence. ("Public Enemies" cost roughly $100 million and came in on time, in part because the production had to be finished before last summer's presumptive SAG strike date.) But after a few years pass, the stance often softens, since the artistry of the film remains long after memories of the clashes with Mann fade. When Mann made "Ali," he battled with Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal, who was especially infuriated by the director's insistence on retaining a couple of obscenities in the picture, which prevented the film from earning a PG-13 rating that would have helped it reach a far broader audience. But now all is forgiven. "No matter what I said at the time, I think Michael is one of our most gifted filmmakers -- we're always trying to develop new directing projects for him," says Pascal. "You put all the disagreements behind you because you remember the great work, not the pain of the moment." She laughs. "You forget about the pain of childbirth too. I mean, whatever you go through, you still want another baby. It's like that with Michael too."

It's not so hard to see parallels between Mann, who has the fierce independence of an earlier generation of Hollywood filmmakers, and Dillinger, who is portrayed in "Public Enemies" as something of an anachronism, a lone wolf being squeezed out of the bank-robbing trade by the growing corporatization of crime. A key element in Mann's conception of the film -- which he wrote with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman -- is that it wasn't just J. Edgar Hoover's FBI who was gunning for Dillinger, but the newly organized crime syndicates who saw freelance outlaws like Dillinger as threats to their nationwide business aspirations.

"Dillinger was actually obsolete, but he was so damn good at what he did that he managed to survive, despite all the horrible attrition around him," explains Mann, who makes a point in the film of showing that virtually all of Dillinger's cohorts were gunned down before he famously meets his end outside Chicago's Biograph Theater. "There are two big evolutionary forces at work. There's what Hoover is doing with the FBI, with information gathering and data management. And there's organized crime, being cash rich, moving into corporate capitalism, and they don't want these Depression outlaws around [inspiring the Feds to pass crime legislation] against moving money across interstate lines."

Mann had always seen the 1930s as fertile territory. Back in the 1980s, he wrote a screenplay about Alvin Karpis, a Chicago bank robber who often crossed paths with Dillinger (he appears in "Public Enemies," played by Giovanni Ribisi). Nothing came of it, but Mann got interested again when he read an excerpt from Bryan Burrough's book "Public Enemies" in Vanity Fair. The filmmaker teamed up with producer Kevin Misher to put the project together. The first draft of the script was written by Bennett, a novelist Mann thought would have an interesting take on Dillinger, since when Bennett was a young IRA sympathizer he was accused of being involved with a series of bank robberies and ended up serving time in prison.

The film paints Dillinger in somber, fatalistic tones. Even though he has a soulful relationship with a Chicago hat-check girl (played in the film by Marion Cotillard), Dillinger always has a dark cloud of doom hovering over his head. He knows he won't be around long enough to worry about tomorrow. But he's also a populist icon. When a farmer offers him a few dollars in the middle of a bank heist, Dillinger refuses to take the cash, saying, "We're not here for your money. We're here for the bank's money."

To Mann, it's easy to identify with Dillinger. "He was a charismatic outlaw hero who spoke to people in the depths of the Depression. He assaulted the institution that made their lives miserable -- the bank -- and he outsmarted the institution -- the government -- that couldn't fix the problems brought about by the Depression."

Mann uses the same word over and over to describe Dillinger -- brio. When Dillinger broke out of Indiana's supposedly impregnable Crown Point jail, "he didn't just take a car, he takes the sheriff's new car, a V-8 Ford, and then he wrote a letter to Henry Ford, telling him that whenever he stole a car, he wanted to steal a Ford."

Once Mann had a finished script, he went to Depp, having been a fan of his work, especially offbeat fare like "Libertine." "Johnny is not afraid to take chances," says Mann. "I thought this was a character he could relate to internally, to mine the deeper currents within himself, the way he would if he were ever to play a musician. I wanted to see Johnny go inside this guy, to do something emotionally open and expressive."

So how does a filmmaker know he's in sync with an actor when they're preparing a film? "The more you do it, the more you know it when you know," Mann says. "When Russell Crowe came in for 'The Insider,' I thought it was going nowhere -- and suddenly we were reading a speech and after two lines -- wham! -- he was Jeffrey Wigand. It was all him." Mann had a similar moment of takeoff with Depp a few weeks before shooting began. "As he was reading, I started hearing the voice I heard in my head when I was writing the words. It was great."

It wasn't always great on the set. According to people who were there, Depp, accustomed to the clockwork production schedule on Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, had trouble adjusting to Mann's more idiosyncratic schedule, which often forced Depp to wait for long hours until Mann was ready to proceed. (I got a little taste of it myself, cooling my heels in Mann's outer office before the filmmaker came out to meet me, with his assistant explaining that I'd have to wait "until he finishes thinking.")

Mann says reports that Depp sometimes left the set in frustration are untrue. "That's nonsense," he says. "He may have kept me waiting, I have may kept him waiting. That's not a big deal. For me, what goes on in a film set is sacrosanct, so I have nothing to say about what went on."

Mann isn't especially enamored by the tag of uncompromising perfectionist either. "If someone says, 'Are you a perfectionist?' I'd say no," he says. "There are many scenes in this film that were great that aren't in it anymore because I don't believe in wasting time on a meaningless detail at the risk of blowing the richness that's down the block. I know what's important [in a film] and what's not."

For Mann, it's all about delivering the goods. not just to the studio but also the moviegoer. "When I set out to make a movie, part of the thrill is the level of commitment," he says. "I ain't playing, you bet. I don't leave things half-[done], saying, 'Well, that scene is good enough. We can move on.' That doesn't happen. The ambition -- and it's a sizable one -- is to make a movie that has a dramatic impact on people."

Thanks to Patrick Goldstein

Thursday, June 11, 2009

John Dillinger Day at the Biograph

JOHN DILLINGER
DIED FOR YOU

The 75th anniversary gathering at the John Dillinger death site
1934-2009

SHOOTING of JOHN DILLINGER
PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE

The "John Dillinger Died For You Society" invites you to Lincoln Station, 2432 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, on Wednesday, July 22, 2009, from 8:00 to 10:30 pm, for a
SPECIAL COMMEMORATION

On July 22nd Richard Crowe, Michael Flores and the cast of the show THE BRIDES OF GHOST HUNTER RICHARD CROWE: JOHN DILLINGER EDITION will re-enact the life of Dillinger and the women in his life! To be followed by a procession to his death spot.

Watch Richard Crowe discuss Dillinger and his hauntings here:




Meet fellow gangster buffs, authors & authorities, indulge in bar specials, and enter to win a special prize for the "Hottest Lady in Red". Shortly after 10 PM there will be a bagpipe procession led by Mike Dietz (of the Celtic rock group Stirling), retracing the last steps of Dillinger to the alley by the Biograph Theater where there will be a ceremony - on the very spot that the outlaw met his grisly fate!

Words will be spoken by Michael Flores on "the place of John Dillinger in pop culture & modern society". He has read the PUBLIC ENEMY script and he is not happy.

And Richard Crowe, famous Chicago folklorist and ghosthunter, will talk on "the supernatural legacy & legends of John Dillinger".

Note: This event may be filmed for newsreels! Be prepared to protect your identity by wearing a disguise, if necessary.

YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS!

FREE ADMISSION

Half price for Ladies in Red
(Please be kind enough to tip the piper)

CASH BAR and CASH MENU

LINCOLN STATION
2432 North LINCOLN AVENUE
JUST NORTH OF FULLERTON,
ACROSS FROM THE BIOGRAPH THEATER

Brought to you by the John Dillinger Died For You Society, The Brides of Ghost Hunter Richard Crowe http://ghosthunter.blogdrive.com , the Psychotronic Film Society, and Ghosthunter Richard Crowe's Supernatural Tours

****************************

John Dillinger was the most notorious bank robber and outlaw of the Depression era. Indiana born, Dillinger had many Chicago connections and after his March 1934 daring escape from the Crown Point, IN, jail, spent much of his remaining life in the Lincoln Park area.

In an attempt to gain political power, the fledgling FBI's J. Edgar Hoover declared Dillinger "Public Enemy #1" - the first time such a designation was used by a Federal bureaucrat.

Dillinger's betrayer was a female Judas named Anna Sage. The landlady of Dillinger's girlfriend, Sage betrayed him on the promise to be allowed to stay in the USA and be freed from a deportation proceeding. Ironically, she would be deported anyway.

On Sunday night, July 22, 1934, Dillinger, with girlfriend Polly Hamilton and Sage, left the Biograph Theatre at 10:30 PM. The trio had just watched the gangster movie MANHATTAN MELODRAMA. The Feds spotted Anna's tell-tale red dress and began wildly shooting on the busy street. Moments later, two innocent women were hit and Dillinger lay sprawled in a pool of blood in an alley next to a chop suey carryout.Dillinger's name would forever be linked to Chicago.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Last Steps of John Dillinger

One of the most famous cases in the FBI's 100-year history celebrates an anniversary today: On July 22, 1934, the gangster John Dillinger was killed in Chicago, moments after leaving the Biograph Theater, where, ironically, he had watched a gangster film starring Clark Gable. In the Depression years of the early 1930s, Dillinger’s bank robberies, shootouts, and jailbreaks earned him nationwide notoriety, but to the Bureau, he was just Public Enemy #1. And after months of pursuing him, a tip led Melvin Purvis, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Chicago office, to the Biograph on a hot Sunday night.

The day before, Purvis and Special Agent Samuel A. Cowley, who had been appointed by Director J. Edgar Hoover to head the Dillinger investigation, had met with a woman calling herself Anna Sage, a friend of Dillinger’s girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. She was hoping that her cooperation with the authorities would earn her reward money and keep her from being deported to her native Romania. She told Purvis that Dillinger planned to take both her and Hamilton to a Sunday evening movie at the Biograph or the Marbro.

Stakeouts were arranged for both theaters. A hand-written document from the FBI Dillinger file, a diagram of the Biograph, illustrates the placement of some 20 men around the theater and across the street. The diagram shows the letters “A,” “B,” and “C” outside the theater box office, with an “X” next to each letter. A legend identifies the significance of the letters: “Dillinger companion,” “Dillinger,” “informant.”

The informant—Anna Sage—called Purvis at 8:30 p.m. that Sunday to say they were going to the Biograph. Two hours later, Dillinger emerged from the theater with his two companions. Purvis, standing nearby, lit a cigar. It was the signal for his men to move in. As they did, Dillinger realized what was happening and reached for his pistol. Agents fired, and Dillinger was hit. He staggered, then fell.

Dillinger’s death signaled the beginning of the end of the Gangster Era, but the nation’s fascination with those times lives on. A new movie about Dillinger, directed by Michael Mann, is scheduled for release next July. The film, Public Enemies, stars Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as Purvis. Mann, a Chicago native, spared no expense to re-create the Biograph Theater and the look and feel of 1930s-era Chicago for the film. “Getting it visually right requires a lot of dedication,” he explains, thanking us for our “spectacular cooperation” in helping to make the film authentic.Ross Rice, spokesman in the FBI's Chicago field office, says that when he compared the movie sets with archival photos from those days, “you couldn’t tell the difference. I felt like I was stepping back in time.” On Lincoln Avenue, where the Biograph still stands, the film crew “essentially rented out the entire block,” Rice says. The fa├žade of every building was redone to look exactly as it did on that steamy night when Dillinger went to see Manhattan Melodrama. Attention was paid to every detail, from the streetlights to the trolley tracks right down to replacing the bricks on the street. Mann says the film also strives for “period-accurate psychology,” to help illuminate inner thoughts and motivations of Purvis and Dillinger. That process included talking with agents while doing research for the film. Their “zeal and passion,” Mann says, helped him understand just how badly Purvis wanted to catch Public Enemy #1.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Historic Photos of Chicago Crime: The Capone Era

Moviemakers shooting "Public Enemies" here, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, dug deep into the files of the Chicago History Museum to research the film. And for good reason: Those files contain a treasure trove of photos from the 1920s and '30s gangland era of Chicago.

Some of those pictures -- many snapped by photographers of the old Chicago Daily News -- now have been compiled by museum curator John Russick in a book, Historic Photos of Chicago Crime: The Capone Era (Turner Publishing, $39.95).

Russick's goal was to capture not just the criminals, but the times. So among the 200 photos in the book are shots of biplane barnstormers, jazz cats, suffragists and flappers in fur coats.

At its center, though, are photos of Al Capone and his ilk, including crime scenes depicting bloody soldiers snuffed in the vice-driven street wars. One, however, shows Capone relaxing at a White Sox game in the front row of old Comiskey Park.

Russick said Capone was a different kind of crime boss when it came to publicity.

While Capone's mentor, John Torrio, shied from the public eye, Capone welcomed attention and posed for photos. His fearlessness was founded partly on a safety ensured by corrupt police, but also in the support he had from a thirsty portion of the general public who resented Prohibition, said Russick.

"Alcohol was such a fundamental part of the culture of America and of the immigrant communities,'' said Russick. "For Germans, going to a beer hall with your family and friends was a way of bringing solidarity to the community. [Prohibition] wasn't just an attack on alcohol but an attack on culture."

Capone, who inherited Torrio's mob in 1925, was eventually imprisoned on tax evasion charges in 1931.

It was an angle the feds had to take "largely because federal agents weren't certain a [Chicago] jury would convict him on bootlegging,'' said Russick. "Prosecution of the man would be pro-Prohibition."

Museum spokeswoman Lauren Dolan said a handful of museum experts worked with the film's researchers on "everything from the style of dress of the time to what the streets and street lights looked like -- including the storefronts.''

"They used many of our photographs that feature key people involved to make sure the actors looked like the real-life characters," she said.

Thanks to Andrew Herrman

Friday, December 21, 2007

Las Vegas Museum to be Mobster Lite?

Where's the respect?

Las Vegas, the flamingo city of lights, has the gumption to be planning a mob museum. But since Las Vegas is the town where the mob tried to go straight, this proposed museum will probably be more like Mobster Lite.

Imagine: Chicago -- the town run by Al Capone, where the St. Valentine's Day Massacre became the iconic event of the Era of the Mobster, where John Dillinger was welcomed with a hail of bullets outside the Biograph Theater, where police and judges raked in bribes by the tens of millions during Prohibition -- being upstaged by upstart Las Vegas.

Where do they get the ego? Even the most famous Las Vegas mob hit -- of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel -- took place in Los Angeles.

Chicago, New York and maybe Cleveland were home to the real gang activity of the teens and '20s. Hundreds of larger and lesser mobsters in those towns met their violent rewards on the streets, in barber chairs and at quiet restaurants with checkered tablecloths.

Las Vegas was the Johnny-come-lately spot with only a few mob hits as the violence waned and the old crime families withered on their way to going straight.

The FBI thinks the museum is a good idea.

The feds, of course, want good local billing in it. They certainly were more successful in cleaning up Las Vegas than they were in Chicago (but far more credit in Las Vegas goes to the Nevada Gaming Commission).

At such a museum there probably is money to be raked in. They better just hope New York and Chicago mob families don't demand a cut.

Many think America's old mobsters looked like James Cagney, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and George Raft rather than Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano or syphilis-marked Capone.

Still, menacing gangsters behind glass in an air-conditioned museum would be more palatable than on the doorstep in the morning, demanding protection money as you open your mom-and-pop sundry store.Shop the Morgan Mint.com for fine collectible coins

Give Las Vegas three bars on a slot machine for coming up with another tourist draw. But this museum sounds like it might be to the old mob what fine cabernet is to bathtub gin.

Thanks to TCH

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