The Death of John Dillinger – 2009 Style

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Public Enemies (2009).

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Public Enemies (2009).

Vitals

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, doomed Depression-era bank robber

Chicago, July 1934

Film: Public Enemies
Release Date: July 1, 2009
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Designer: Colleen Atwood

Background

While 1973’s Dillinger took a “just the facts” approach to retelling the life of bank robber John Dillinger (albeit with very exaggerated facts), Michael Mann’s Public Enemies painted the farmboy-turned-criminal as a more mythical figure. This seems to be the trend in recent years.

Forty-some years ago, the cinematic John Dillinger and Clyde Barrow were depicted as Robin Hood-type folk heroes who were cornered by relentless authorities and shot without warning. Now, each man has almost knowingly walked into their fatal scenarios, accepting death with a smirk. Last year’s miniseries about Bonnie and Clyde showed Clyde realizing that he and Bonnie were a destructive force, practically turning themselves in. Depp’s Dillinger goes to see Manhattan Melodrama and watches as Clark Gable tells William Powell:

Die the way you lived, all of a sudden, that’s the way to go. Don’t drag it out.

While the real Dillinger indeed viewed Manhattan Melodrama minutes before he was killed, it is doubtful that he was thinking, “Good point, Clark. I sure don’t mind if I get shot and killed tonight. At least it would be all of a sudden!”

What’d He Wear?

With an interesting divergence with the trousers, Depp’s Dillinger wears essentially the exact same thing that the real Dillinger was reported to have been wearing the night he was killed in front of the Biograph.

For his night out at the movies with Polly and Anna, Dillinger dresses fashionably but practically to combat the extreme sumer heat with a straw boater and linen trousers. He doesn’t wear a jacket, serving the double purpose of keeping him cool and evading suspicion (as gangsters would wear jackets even in warm weather to conceal their weapons).

Dillinger spruces himself up for the night out, wearing a white broadcloth dress shirt just like the real Dillinger wore. It has a spread collar, a front placket, a breast pocket, rear side darts, and button cuffs. The silk red tie that Dillinger wears with it is wide and short – correct for the period – with a subtle square pattern.

Dillinger and Anna leave the theater. She is concerned, he is cool. Inset photos show the texture of his shirt and the deco pattern of his tie.

Dillinger and Anna leave the theater. She is concerned, he is cool. Inset photos show the texture of his shirt and the deco pattern of his tie.

Dillinger’s trousers, which he wears throughout the entire day, are tan linen with single reverse pleats. The trousers have a generously fit through the legs, which is essential for linen trousers to have their intended effect of keeping cool without sticking to the skin. Luckily for Dillinger (and Depp), large-fitting trousers were fashionable in the ’30s anyway.

Dillinger nonchalantly steps into the office filled with men whose sole purpose in life is to capture and kill him.

Dillinger nonchalantly steps into the office filled with men whose sole purpose in life is to capture and kill him.

The long trousers rise to Depp’s natural waist, where there is a plain black leather belt holding them up. Like the actual belt Dillinger was wearing at the time of his death, the belt closes in the front with a simple silver-toned buckle.

The trousers have jetted rear pockets and on-seam side pockets, of which Dillinger makes good use. He carries his pistol, the appropriately-named Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless, in his right side pocket.

Some men carry a lucky penny or a rabbit's tail. Dillinger prefers his luck to come in a more tangible form, notably one measured by caliber.

Some men carry a lucky penny or a rabbit’s tail. Dillinger prefers his luck to come in a more tangible form, notably one measured by caliber.

In his left trouser pocket, he carries his gold pocket watch. This watch is attached to a gold chain which is clipped to Dillinger’s left trouser belt loop.

Dillinger doubles up with both a wristwatch and a pocketwatch.

Dillinger doubles up with both a wristwatch and a pocketwatch.

 

The watch has a white face with black Roman numerals and a gold cover. I can’t make out the manufacturer, but someone with Blu-Ray capabilities may have more luck. Dillinger’s actual watch at the time of his shooting was a yellow gold 17-jewel Hamilton watch with a photo of Polly Hamilton inside the cover. While Public Enemies doesn’t make the same mistake as 1973’s Dillinger by making Billie and Polly the same person, it still places Billie’s photo inside the watch. Perhaps poor Polly Hamilton will get her due in another thirty or forty years.

Public Enemies ignores Polly Hamilton in favor of the more romantic notion of placing Billie Frechette's photo inside Dillinger's watch.

Public Enemies ignores Polly Hamilton in favor of the more romantic notion of placing Billie Frechette’s photo inside Dillinger’s watch.

Dillinger’s real Hamilton pocket watch, carried the night he died in 1934, was auctioned for just under $42,000 in December 2009 with several other of his personal belongings. According to David Mycko:

The Hamilton pocketwatch that Dillinger carried the night he was gunned down, thanks to WorthPoint.com.

The Hamilton pocketwatch that Dillinger carried the night he was gunned down, thanks to WorthPoint.com. Note that it is much more modern-styled than the watch in the film.

Dillinger’s Hamilton is a 12 size Gentleman’s dress watch with a good quality 17 jewel movement housed in a quality goldfilled hinge back open-face case made by the Keystone Watch Case Co. also located in Lancaster, Pa. While not a watch capable of rail road timekeeping, the watch was in keeping with Hamilton’s standing as a watch company that produced quality at a standard above the rest. Hamilton was very successful at mass producing these “Banker’s Watches” in dozens of different styles, shapes and various case metals, white and yellow gold, platinum, and goldfilled. The “bottom end” was 17 jewels while the top end was 23 jewels and five adjustments. Hamilton’s “bottom end” watches were comparable to other watch companies medium and high end watches.

The site also mentions a Waltham open face pocket watch, given to Dillinger by his father, which was sold in the same auction. Although the watch may have had more sentimental value to Dillinger as a gift from his dad, it only sold for about 10% the price of the Hamilton.

Dillinger wears a pair of white leather loafers with brown hard leather soles. We don’t see much of the shoes, but the socks are definitely thin silk black with a high rise.

pedead-CL-feet

The consequences of wearing black socks with white shoes…

A behind-the-scenes shot of Depp enjoying a glass of wine in his trailer after what looks like a long day of shooting reveals the socks as well as the black knee pads, black boxer briefs, and off-white undershirt that he wore under his clothing. Evidently the knee pads were to protect him when taking Dillinger’s fatal fall. These would have been well-concealed by the baggy trousers. As the character wears a sleeveless undershirt, the long-sleeve undershirt was likely to serve as more of a sweat-catcher to keep the white dress shirt clean during numerous takes.

Although we never see him actually put it on, Dillinger has a light brown sueded leather money belt with a zip pouch on the table next to him while getting ready. This is likely Mann’s nod to the controversy surrounding how much money Dillinger had on him at the time of his death; some suspected that the East Chicago police involved stole money from the corpse.

Baron Hats created a straw boater specifically for Public Enemies, now on display in Baron’s Hollywood Hat Museum. The boater is light brown straw with a wide black ribbon and a slightly rounded crown.

Heavy lies the crown...

Heavy lies the crown…

Dillinger also wears his standard accessory throughout the film, a thick gold ring with a dark ruby asscher-cut flat stone on his right ring finger.

As he did in real life, Dillinger takes an extra precaution to hide his face when going to the movies. He wears a pair of gold octagonal-framed glasses with dark gradient lenses. The lenses aren’t as dark as his other sunglasses as that would be additionally conspicuous for a nighttime movie.

Corey Hary, c. 1934.

Corey Hary, c. 1934.

Earlier in the day, Dillinger wore a more casual light seafoam green shirt with thin tonal stripes and a white inner lining on the front placket. The shirt also has a breast pocket and button cuffs, which Dillinger often rolls up. He also leaves the top button undone.

Dillinger meets with Alvin Karpis both in the finished film (left) and behind the scenes (right). Karpis was a fascinating outlaw - depicted throughout the book Public Enemies - whose career is certainly deserving of a film of its own.

Dillinger meets with Alvin Karpis both in the finished film (left) and behind the scenes (right). Karpis was a fascinating outlaw – depicted throughout the book Public Enemies – whose career is certainly deserving of a film of its own.

Dillinger also wears a different pair of sunglasses during the day. These have round tortoiseshell frames and dark brown lenses and are better suited to daytime wear than the metal-framed ones he wears in the evening.

pedead-CX-shades1

He also wears a gold wristwatch on a black strap earlier in the day. The watch’s large dial is white with Roman numerals. He definitely wears it when running his errands during the day and while getting ready for the evening, but he appears to have taken it off for the movies.

Dillinger, prior to realizing just how redundant it is to wear both a wristwatch and a pocketwatch.

Dillinger, prior to realizing just how redundant it is to wear both a wristwatch and a pocketwatch.

While shaving and getting ready before the movies, Dillinger wears a brown dressing gown with shawl lapels over his white sleeveless undershirt and linen trousers.

A robe should be manly. Brown is never a bad choice.

A robe should be manly. Brown is never a bad choice.

How Does It Compare?

As noted in Friday’s post, Special Agent Daniel Sullivan’s report from Dillinger’s death scene was transcribed by Inspector Samuel Cowley in a memo to Hoover, listing all of Dillinger’s clothing and effects at the time he was killed. This memo, as found at retired FBI Larry E. Wack’s definitive website Faded Glory: Dusty Roads of an FBI Era, lists Dillinger’s final attire as:

  • 1 white broadcloth shirt, Kenilworth brand.
  • 1 red printed necktie, bearing tag of Paul Boldt & Sons, 2724 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois.
  • 1 pair gray pants containing laundry mark in pocket, No. 355 (40).
  • 1 black belt with silver buckle – no monogram.
  • 1 pair white buckskin Nunnbush [sic] shoes, size 9-D, manufacturer’s number 369…105721.
  • 1 pair black socks; no manufacturer’s name.
  • 1 pair red Paris garters.
  • 1 pair shorts (Hanes), white in color, with blue stripes, size 34, bearing manufacturer’s identifying number 186A-350SE-34.
  • 1 gold ring with ruby set, containing the following inscription on the inside of the ring: “With all my love, Polly”.
  • 1 yellow gold 17 jewel Hamilton watch, works No. 344347, case No. 0558384. In the rear of the case of this watch was a picture of a young woman, which has been identified as that of the girl friend who attended the Biograph Theater with Dillinger on July 22,1934. The name of this girl is Polly Hamilton.

The film also uses confirmed details from first hand reports in books like G. Russell Girardin’s Dillinger: The Untold Story and Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies, such as the breast pocket on Dillinger’s shirt, his straw boater, and his metal-rimmed dark glasses.

The real Dillinger, dead in the Chicago police wagon.

The real Dillinger, dead in the Chicago police wagon.

Public Enemies checks off all of the necessary items on the list, although the choice of tan linen trousers deviates from the “gray pants” mentioned in Sullivan’s report. Unlike 1973’s DillingerPublic Enemies also keeps the correct season in mind when dressing Dillinger, giving him the correct accessories of a straw hat and white loafers.

Mann’s film addresses the controversy regarding whether or not Dillinger was carrying a gun: Mann asserts that he was. Furthermore, Mann and his team arm Dillinger with the same weapon he was reported to have been carrying, a Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless, likely chambered in .380 ACP.

Dillinger's Colt pistol and money belt, moments before heading out to the Biograph.

Dillinger’s Colt pistol and money belt, moments before heading out to the Biograph.

Sullivan’s FBI report states that Dillinger’s pocket inventory at the time was:

  • 2 keys, one of which was manufactured by the Independent Lock Company; the other key appeared to be for a door.
  • 1 automatic pistol, .380 caliber.
  • 1 extra loaded automatic clip of .380 caliber. This clip was filled with Remington U.M.C. cartridges.
  • 1 white handkerchief in a brown border.

Due to the reasonable pocket size allowed by the high rise and wide fit of 1930s trousers, Dillinger is able to comfortably conceal a compact semi-automatic pistol in his pants pocket. Some say that Dillinger was unarmed when he was killed, but this doesn’t sound like a reasonable decision for the most hunted man in the country who had shot his way out of multiple situations before. Although Dillinger probably reached for his Colt when he was cornered, it was futile against several determined men who already had guns aimed in his direction.

How to Get the Look

Public Enemies (and Dillinger himself) offer a comfortable suggestion for a warm summer evening date to the movies, although a straw boater hat may be tough to come by and it takes a very confident man to pull off white loafers in 2014.

pedead-crop1

  • White dress shirt with large spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, button cuffs
  • Tan linen flat front trousers with on-seam side pockets, jetted rear pockets, belt loops, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Dark red silk square-patterned necktie
  • Light brown straw boater with wide black ribbon
  • White leather plain-toe loafers
  • Black dress socks
  • White sleeveless undershirt
  • Gold-framed octagonal sunglasses with dark gradient lenses
  • Gold pocket watch attached via gold chain to his trousers’ belt loop
  • Thick gold ring with dark ruby flat stone, worn on right ring finger

If you prefer a more casual look, try a seafoam button-down shirt with no tie. Keep it extra sporty with a wristwatch and tortoiseshell sunglasses as well. The boater is a big hit with the retro-minded, but make sure you’re not mistaken for a conventioneer.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the movie.

Footnotes

Public Enemies successfully takes on the notion of Dillinger wearing sunglasses for a nighttime movie without making him look totally ridiculous. Unlike the 1945 film Dillinger, where Lawrence Tierney just looks completely absurd…

Dillinger45Sunglasses

2 comments

  1. Pingback: The Death of John Dillinger – 1973 Style | BAMF Style
  2. Pingback: Dillinger’s Brown Suit in “Public Enemies” | BAMF Style

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