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.
Franc Roddam‘s 1979 film of The Who‘s rock opera aligns sociological observation and romantic fantasy to create an extravagant, involving teenpic with a responsible intellectual grounding. The dark, grimy visual style meets the Who’s naive plotting straight on to create a kind of mythic realism; stirring, archetypal situations clothed in pseudodocumentary grit. The hero, a jumpy young mod played with commanding intensity by Phil Daniels, achieves one moment of perfect bliss and then self-destructs, a motif straight out of 19th-century romantic fiction.