Public Enemies is set in the depression 30’s when Midwestern criminals like John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde carried a certain folkloric cachet. In that time of crushing poverty, banks were the enemy, foreclosing on small landholders and failing to assist customers. Bank robbers were heroes.
Public Enemies is the Michael Mann’s evocative period piece, starring Johnny Deep in the role of Dillinger. Mann is painstakingly authentic to the period, from the wardrobe and cars to the weapons used by the police and the bad guys. For weapons expertise, he turned to Chicago Special FBI Agent Dale Shelton.
DS - I was tech advisor to show the film and actors and production people from the FBI point of view, what it is to be an agent and the equipment of the time period, firearms training, and tactics used back then. I’m a firearms and SWAT team instructor. There’s a scene where the FBI agents go to an apartment where Dillinger is staying and an agent blows the door off the hinges with a shotgun. They told me it was happening, and I showed the actors how it would be done. If you look very closely and don’t blink you’ll see me shooting the door.
AB – Did you prepare Johnny Depp?
DS - I worked with Johnny Depp but in general not with the bad guys, the criminals, as much as the agents. There was a good reason for that. Michael Mann wanted to make the film as real as possible. Dillinger hated law enforcement, and it doesn’t do the film justice if I pal around with these guys. I was involved with them in firearms training for weapons.
I’d say hi and I talked to Mr. Depp a few times but I spent much more time with the special agents. Christian Bale is a natural student and did most of his training before we shot. He’s the main character there’s a lot of screen time with weapons and more intense, I was with him more than the other agents. Christian did a great job and all the actors had the firearms nailed them.
AB – Was the Dillinger history accurate?
DS – Absolutely. Michael Mann and really everyone on his team were professional and intent on having the film depict that time period as accurately as possible. I assisted with anything bureau related, and I was honoured. They wanted it to be an accurate as possible. They knew FBI agents would see the movie they didn’t want any of the agents to walk out to feel it was a disservice.
Unfortunately things in Little Bohemia went wrong (an ill fated FBI raid on Dillinger’s Wisconsin hideout), but it’s not an indictment of the FBI but the limitations of law enforcement. There were no two way radios, night vision, or organised training then but they did the best they could and they captured three murderers. The FBI learned from the situation. It’s all about the training.
AB- How authentic was the weaponry for the time? Did they use any FBI weapons?
DS - I manage the FBI weapons vault in Chicago and we have some historic weapons on the inventory, but Michael Mann went to great lengths to contact the businesses that supplied the film industry with weapons and props. He assembled a world class team to make sure all these people had the right weapon and armour. Hand guns used in that time period, and one featured prominently on Johnny Depp was made by John Colt in 1911, a government model called the Colt 45 is actually an M1911. Mr. Depp brandished it several times. It was introduced in 1911, manufactured after WW1, but there are subtle differences to the one Dillinger had in the ‘30s.
Most famous weapon in the FBI was the Thompson submachine gun with the vertical grip and its distinctive look. We had to get the right weapons. Some people really know them, and had to be the right stuff for the time. I’m very detail oriented and that was one thing I was very happy with that they did get it right.
AB – How different are the techniques and tactics then and now?
DS – They’re as different as night and day. Now we are dependent on modern conveniences, and technological advancements but at the end of the day, what it boils down to is that the FBI agent has the ability to relate to people, to get information out of people and attempt to get confessions, to talk to a victim and get key information in a timely basis and get people to confess to things they might find embarrassing. That skill has not changed in 100 years of the FBI and it’s not going to change. Even without the technology, we could still do the job and get it done.Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.