A gentle fable on familiar themes, lightly salted with irony by Clint Eastwood. Eastwood plays the title character, the head of a modern-day wild west show that scrabbles from town to town in the backwaters of the midwest, spreading the forgotten values of fair play, comradeship, and clean living (up to a point). Sondra Locke, as a spoiled heiress, enters via a plot device lifted from It Happened One Night. Eastwood’s performance is dense and subtle, drawing on his natural shyness and gentility, though his direction — apart from two or three creatively edited sequences — is much less distinctive than it has been before. A minor film with a good heart — if anything, it’s too lovable (1980).
In retrospect, a seminal film. John Milius‘s first directorial effort (1973) set the mythopoeic form for much 70s action cinema, balancing a romantic reverence for past heroes with a revisionist approach to character. Milius’s Dillinger (Warren Oates) is a self-conscious mythmaker (he consoles his holdup victims with the promise, “Someday you’ll tell your grandchildren about this”); his FBI nemesis, Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), is less interested in justice than in headlines, though his obsession with Dillinger is tinged with a strange Freudian intensity. As the mulish, arrogant Baby Face Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss has one of his best screen roles. The cheap AIP production doesn’t allow for period detail, but the vagueness of the settings contributes to the film’s subtle stylization.