Movie Bad Guy Boosts Travel

Destination: Wisconsin, Indiana, Chicago

Movie: Public Enemies, with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale

I am never sure whether to be amused or perplexed when bad guys become tourist attractions. I guess the correct word is “bemused.”  While we sometimes give equal time to heroes–Wyatt Earp, for instance, in Tombstone, Arizona–I am at a loss as to why Billy The Kid draws people to a museum in Hico, Texas.

And now we have the reckless, not-too-bright, ruthless John Dillinger indirectly doing good for his home state of Indiana, his hideaway state of Wisconsin and Chicago, home of hoods.

Wisconsin, particularly, betting the movie Public Enemies would be a smash hit, launched a tourism campaign that stopped just short of calling Dillinger “Wisconsin’s Favorite Son.” “See bullet holes from the 1934 shoot out” at Little Bohemia (now a restaurant rather than a lodge). “Go ‘on the lam’ in Wisconsin,” the tourism touts recommend on a web site listing Wisconsin tours .

Chicago, of course has had mobster tours for many years.  Nearly as soon as the gunshot wounds healed from gang fights in the twenties and thirties, Chicago started cashing in on its reputation as capitol of crime.  Boosting that business, the movie gives us some nice glimpses of Chicago’s El and the Public Library.

And Indiana gets into the act because Dillinger was born there, so their state Archives ran special exhibits the summer the film was released.

My own town of Tucson does its bit for Dillinger’s fame with yearly Dillinger days at the Hotel Congress.  The gang was staying there when a fire smoked them out and law officers discovered their heavy suitcases were packing lead (so to speak).

A little pouting here, because the Public Enemies film makers truncated the Tucson story, leaving out the fire. Worse, they did not film in Tucson.  However, if you visit the downtown Congress Hotel, you’ll be seeing it pretty much the way Dillinger saw it.  The old switchboard with its tangle of wires sits behind the lobby desk. In the sparsely-furnished rooms you will not be watching TV (although you can watch at the seating area at the end of the hall) but you can make phone calls on one of those old black dial telephones. You know, the ones that can serve as a weapon in a pinch. And you can still stay at the hotel, across from the railroad depot.

Is Public Enemies, the movie, going to stick around long enough to give a tourism boost to Wisconsin and Indiana and other places that celebrate the public enemies? Maybe.  After all Johnny Depp plays Dillinger.  And the movie does have style. Someone tweeted, “Do you remember when we dressed so well? Me either.

Actually, I am old enough to remember when men wore hats, before John F. Kennedy killed the hat industry by going bareheaded.  However, it still seems strange to see killers in fedoras and topcoats.  The car talk, comparing the horsepower of old flivvers provides a lot of fun.  The street scenes are well done and the bank interiors are gorgeous.

But, personally, I wish we could find out where Melvin Purvis came from, so I could pay him tribute.  Why should not somebody be celebrating the G-man who finally stopped Dillinger’s spree of killing and robbing?

The movie is really about Purvis and his methodical chase.  Viewers not carried away by the glamour of Johnny Depp, the actor, will see that Depp plays the supporting role of psychotic, heartless gang leader.  Inevitably, the FBI gang, headed by another unbalanced individual,J. Edgar Hoover, beats the Dillinger gang.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

6 thoughts on “Movie Bad Guy Boosts Travel

  1. I liked the movie but thought it could have been better had it conveyed the grittiness or sense of danger that underlies the story. I just couldn’t get away from what you had touched on, the actors look like models on photo shoot! The sets to, while brilliant, are almost too perfect, and take away from what otherwise could have been a really cool, gritty movie.

  2. It’s been said that history is written by the victors (isn’t the passive voice great when you don’t know the author of a quote?). Many would take issue with your assertion that Wyatt Earp was a good guy — though I’m not among them since I don’t know the ins and outs of the story.

    All this to say that it’s a question of relativism. Dillinger may have been a bad guy but he was a folk hero, a movie star of his time as David Edelstein said in his NPR review of the film, whereas J. Edgar Hoover, who was theoretically on the side of good, has come down through history as a hypocritical creep.

    I haven’t yet seen the movie, but know that Johnny Depp — a good guy in real life from all I hear, adding to the complexity — will get me there, sooner or later.

    Nice post! Got me thinking…

  3. I tend not to visit places that focus on violence, though I imagine many more places than we know have violent histories. I remember being stuck in Fall River, Massachusetts, one snowy night and going way out of my way *not* to stay at the Lizzie Borden house, which is now a b&b. okay, it’s only a house of historic significance, but me, no question, that’s not my choice of what to focus on.

  4. i don’t like to watch anything violent (so most movies are out for me, alas). however, they do LOOK good, the costumes – you’re right. we toured the wabasha caves in st paul, MN and learned all about the gangsters there, back in the was interesting, and obviously people were interested in it, as they do quite a lot of tours.

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