Review — Public Enemies

Public Enemies move cover

Public Enemies is a really great film that is even better to watch now. Before the booze and the drugs took him, Johnny Depp really could act. Before he was making headlines with domestic abuse, he was something to watch on the screen. This movie is a shining example of that. You can also watch this movie for free on Roku.

Before actors started demanding north of $20 million per picture, studios used to assemble large ensemble casts and tell sweeping stories. This movie is from that time. Jason Clark delivers an amazing subdued performance as “Red.” If you don’t recognize the name you will recognize the actor from Zero Dark Thirty. Too many of today’s actors want to mash the pedal to the mettle, he is an actor with throttle control.

I find it amazing nobody talks about Carey Mulligan as Carol Slayman, girlfriend of John Dillinger. That girl can act! More on her in a bit.


Kids today need to watch Public Enemies to understand what today’s criminal world has wrong. You also need to understand what your grandparents went through. The Great Depression began in 1929 and lasted until about 1939. The Prohibition Era began in 1920 with the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and ended when the 21st Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933.

We were given the Prohibition Era by the Christian Taliban, which has had many names such as Moral Majority, over the years. People didn’t pay that much attention to federal elections. This allowed a small terrorist cell to have an out-sized influence in Washington. Wayne B. Wheeler was one of the more well known Christian Taliban, celebrating Prohibition with prayer meetings.

Loose credit allowed average citizens to buy stocks on margin creating a massive stock bubble and a period of time known as The Roaring Twenties. For the first time working stiffs could make money via a means other than their jobs. Like all stock market bubbles it was fueled with cheap stupid money and people chasing returns. Nobody knew the Wall Street Mantra.

Bulls get fat. Bears get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

Wall Street Mantra

We Like to Drink

The simple fact is Americans and most cultures like to drink. If you choose not to that is fine, just don’t touch my booze. The Christian Taliban were, and still are, intent on committing The Ultimate Sin of Man. God said to “love one another” and for thousands of years religious leaders have ordered men to slaughter one another over how it was said. If you don’t believe in my God and my interpretation then you are unfit to live. Thus is the fundamental belief of the Christian Taliban. Pity thou who duth not look like me.

Like all grand experiments put forth by the Christian Taliban, it failed spectacularly. Not only did it fail, it did more to drive people away from religion, governments, and society than any other such failure. It gave the world International Organized Crime. Booze was only illegal in America. There was money to be made smuggling it in and churches had an exception for alter wine which many sold on the black market. Praise Jesus!

When Prohibition ended, these organizations had become addicted to the money. Since they already had the smuggling pipelines, they started bringing in “the drug.” (Opium and all its derivatives.) Ironically, much Opium comes from lands currently held by the actual Taliban today.

The Crash

Men On A Bread Line Photograph by Everett

You who are young and do not study history cannot understand this. You have no frame of reference. Prior to the stock market crash there were no social programs. There was no health insurance, welfare, social security, or Medicaid. If you couldn’t pay cash for food or healthcare you starved and died. Charity organizations set up bread and/or soup kitchens. Outside of them you found lines like the image above in every city.

All of you just went through the COVID-19 Pandemic. It isn’t over, but we are past the nationwide lock-downs. Many of you saw some thing similar outside of charity food pantries. What you saw was after social programs and government checks kicked in. Think for a moment what the pandemic would have been like without all of those social programs “conservatives” keep trying to defund and eliminate.

The Bank Runs

Bank Run scene from It’s A Wonderful Life

With the crash came runs on banks. Why?

Any economy that issues credit doesn’t have enough physical cash to cover said credit.

You can quote me I guess

This is the physical reality. Governments and banks establish credit systems to both stimulate the economy and to avoid the expense of physically printing then transporting cash. How many of you save up money to buy a house? Do you pay cash for the house or take out a mortgage. Prior to The Roaring Twenties, people showed up with a suitcase full of cash to buy a house.

There was no FDIC

You take it for granted now, but there was no FDIC. When your bank failed you lost everything. Bankers bitch and moan today about Stress Tests the banks have to undergo each year, but it is due to their own bad behavior. The above clip from It’s a Wonderful Life needs to be watched carefully. People went into a blind panic and believed the old way was the best. They wanted to hoard their cash at home. If the cash was in their hands it couldn’t be seized by a brokerage firm or a bank.

Somewhere between one third and one half of all financial institutions failed during The Great Depression. It was a domino effect. People lost their jobs by the thousands. Everyone ran to the bank to pull out cash. Banks ran out of cash. People who had actual paychecks kept cashing them instead of depositing them. They would look all over town (or the state) for a bank that was still open to cash the check.

Most of you reading this have lived through the Mortgage Fraud of Chase and the other big banks. Even with the FDIC, roughly 500 banks failed. Keep in mind this was after the Treasury Department did direct injections of cash into banks to keep them afloat. In case you haven’t figured out, that cash either was or will be the tax dollars you and I fork over. Big corporations hide their money.

Background Summary

  • The Christian Taliban gave us Prohibition immediately in front of The Stock Market Crash
  • During Prohibition crime not only became organized, it also provided booze and speakeasys to drink the booze in. They were public heroes.
  • Bank robbers were viewed as Knights Against the Crown. Everybody hated banks.
  • Wherever the bank robbers went they spent the money they stole.
  • Massive unemployment pushed many otherwise good people into organized crime or simply a life of crime.

Public Enemies – The Nice Touches

The entire Prohibition Era gangster story has been done hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. Even back when this movie was made it was becoming difficult for story tellers to provide anything new or unique. Public Enemies came up with a lot. Trust me, I watched all of the black and white “Untouchables” shows and heard most (if not all) of the old time radio shows. The highlights have been painted many times.

When I’m talking about the nice touches of this movie I’m talking about how it takes the time to delve into the characters. In particular it delves into the story of Carol Slayman and how she became both a coat check girl and Dillinger’s girlfriend. Yes, coat check girl was a real job. They worked mostly for tips. If you were a woman you were damned glad to have that job because so many other people didn’t have a job.

How could a good woman take up with John Dillinger? He was a public hero. She was a nobody with no future. We didn’t even have a minimum wage back then. One of the better paying jobs for regular guys was breaking rock by hand for 75 cents/day. You ruined your body doing back breaking work and didn’t earn $5/week.

Public Image

Most every tale of Dillinger includes the famous scene of him telling a bank customer to put their money away.

We’re here for the bank’s money, not yours.

John Dillinger

This movie follows up the trope by Dillinger turning down a kidnapping job from the mob.

“The public doesn’t like kidnapping.”

“Who cares about the public?”

“I do! I hide among them.”

This is one thing most other Dillinger movies fails to point out. The amount of effort Dillinger put into maintaining his public image. He openly ate in high end restaurants. Went to the movie theater. Car dealers delivered cars to him. He was able to do that because he maintained his public image. As long as he only robbed banks the public would love him.

Pay attention to a great scene in the movie. He is at a movie theater with his crew talking about a new job when a public service announcement comes on the screen. The lights go up. His picture is twenty foot high for all to see and not one person fingers him. The theater is packed. Everybody around him saw who he was and said nothing.

Law Enforcement Loved Him

Gallery- The Life and Crimes of John Dillinger

Above is an actual photo of Dillinger after one of his arrests. The guy with his arm around him is the prosecutor who will have to put him away. I kid you not! Public Enemies does a great job of recreating this scene. Dillinger then proceeds to tell the tail of being a kid and robbing the store “which I really shouldn’t have done. He was a good man.”

The one and only time (we know of) that he robbed a place someone would care about he cops to it in a press conference and says what a bad thing it was. Once caught he had a lot of respect for law enforcement. If you don’t believe that statement take a good look at that picture, or this one.

No handcuffs. Everybody mugging for the camera. In the movie you see the press corp is not three feet away. The picture that should seal the deal for you is the next one.

As inconceivable as it sounds, despite all of the law enforcement he mowed down, there was a mutual admiration and respect once the bullets stopped flying. He waited until after he was behind bars to try and escape.

You won’t find law enforcement treating someone like that today after arrest. He had an ever growing body count and was treated like a rock star all because he managed his public image.


Prior to the Prohibition gangster era there was no law enforcement agency with the authority to pursue criminals across state lines. Dillinger and all the other famous bank robbers made certain to rob banks in states where they didn’t live. Public Enemies does a pretty good job of pointing this fact out as well as the push to fully fund Hoover’s G-Men.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Pretty Boy Floyd and a couple of others that went psycho with a machine gun, it’s debatable if Dillinger would have ever been put down. The movie isn’t clear and I don’t remember the history well enough. There had been many famous gangsters, but in the movie and by the historical timeline, Dillinger gets credit for Roosevelt signing the bill giving the federal government more power to fight crime. It was signed May 18, 1934 and on July 22, 1934 Dillinger was killed.

Mob Turned It’s Back

Early in his career the Chicago Mob had welcomed Dillinger with open arms. Gave him places to hide, guns, etc. They laundered his money because it was a big haul for the day. That scene I mentioned earlier about kidnapping is when the mob was pitching upcoming jobs to him.

The Chicago Mob, at least the part which had been shielding Dillinger, changed. They wanted quiet. Dillinger was headlines and heat. The Chicago Mob was big into gambling. They could set up a room full of telephones and take bets from all over the world. It looked like any other big company of the day. There was no violence (at the operation, but plenty of personal violence for collections).

Truth be told The Chicago Mob learned from Dillinger. Manage your public image. They didn’t want the days of Al Capone and Movietone News. Keep the uglier sides of prostitution, drugs, and collections hidden. Appear like quiet, civilized businessmen in public. Dillinger was anything but quiet.

Without the mob’s resources, Dillinger and his crew was left twisting in the breeze. He had to take riskier jobs for lower money. It was only a question of time. The mob also turned its back because of that law Roosevelt signed. They rightly believed it could be used against them.


I love this movie. The acting is superb. Directing is without equal. It’s cut together so beautifully one could only call it genius. This movie is more relevant today in a post-pandemic world than it was when it came out. It takes great pains to get the history right.

For more movie rental ideas please see list one and list two.

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