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.