I have been a long time gangster fan. Not the wannabe gangsta thugs running around today but the real 1920’s and 30’s gangsters who invented and funded the original US crime syndicate before getting booted out of it. I was excited about seeing the movie Public Enemies because I heard it was historically accurate and I liked the idea of Johnny Depp as Dillinger.
Depp didn’t let me down in his role but as far as historical accuracy this movie could not have been any worse. From the opening scenes where Dillinger helps break his new gang out of the Indiana Penitentiary it’s all wrong. Dillinger was never present at the break out even though he did help arrange for the weapons to be smuggled in.
The scene introducing Agent Melvin Purvis was about as far off as it could be too. It’s said Purvis never fired his gun in the line of duty even though he was a crack shot. Despite this information he shoots and kills Pretty Boy Floyd at the beginning of the film. Charles Floyd was actually killed in October of 1934 almost four months after Dillinger. Three different accounts exist of how he was killed but none agree it was in an apple orchard.
The film also shows Baby Face Nelson getting killed during a chase following the gunfight at the Little Bohemia hide out which occurred in April 1934. Lester Gillis, AKA George Nelson, was actually the last of the notorious three killed in November of 1934. Purvis didn’t shoot him either. In fact, he wasn’t even there.
I can only guess these changes were made to glorify Melvin Purvis and compress the demise of these criminals into a time line suitable for a feature length film while interconnecting their associations and deaths. It made for an OK movie. It would have been a better movie if they had actually vilified Dillinger and Nelson through portrayals of heavy violence. Instead they concentrated far too much of the film on the romance of Dillinger almost to the point of making Melvin Purvis and the Bureau of Investigation looking like a bunch of buffoons getting lucky.