Dillinger (1945): Max Nosseck Oscar-Nominated Biopic of Crminal Gangster, Starring Lawrence Tierney

A typical Poverty Raw production, including the use of stock footage, Dillinger, Max Nosseck’s biopic about the legendary gangster John Dillinger was made barely 11 years after his death, making no attempts to stick to the facts.

Even so, for a 1945 movie, “Dillinger” has a bleak tone, and it was influential in introducing the subgenre of the rural gangster film.

Monogram president Steve Broidy wanted to upgrade his company reputation with this feature, which was made for a bigger budget (about $193,000), and was subsequently commercially profitable, grossing over $4 million at the box-office.

Yordan’s script is a precursor of his work on other, more prestigious and better-written crime and noir tales, such William Wyler’s “Detective Story” (1951), “The Big Combo” (1955), and “The Harder They Fall” (1956).

The movie traces the criminal career of John Dillinger, played by Lawrence Tierney, a solid actor, who often played tough roles. (He gave excellent performances in Huston’s “Prizzi’s Honor” and in Tarantino’s feature debut, “Reservoir Dogs.”)

In this saga, Dillinger graduates form grocery-store robbery via a spell in prison to membership in a gang led by Specs (played by Edmund Lowe), a hardened robber. Under Dillinger’s leadership, the gang grows in power, and he becomes romantically involved with Helen (Anne Jeffreys), initially one of his victims. Dillingr kills Specs after a double-cross, but later on is himself shot by G-men, led to him by Helen, who had grown tired of their shabby existence in cheap motels.

The character of John Dillinger occupied a secondary role in Don Siegel’s “Baby Face Nelson” (1958), and again featured prominently in John Milius’ 1973 film, in which he is played by Warren Oates.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Original Screenplay: Philip Yordan

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The winner was Richard Schweizer for the foreign language film, Marie-Louise.”


The film was produced by the brothers Maurice and Frank King, who were known for their associations with mobsters.

Directed by Max Nosseck.

Camera: Jackson Rose.


Running Time: 74 minutes