During the early 1930s, outlaws rampaged across much of America, seemingly robbing banks and kidnapping at will. Some of the more famous of these outlaws were Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly and Alvin Karpis and the Barkers, but John Dillinger was undoubtedly the star. A wave of celebrity kidnappings and the murder of four law enforcement officers in Kansas City in June 1933 during a botched attempt to rescue a veteran bank robber made it clear that a national police force was required. Local police were forbidden to cross state lines, so the Bureau of Investigation (later called the FBI), part of the Department of Justice, was an obvious candidate for this national police force. However, it had to pass through a steep learning curve since it was under-funded and its agents were not originally allowed to carry guns. A year later, almost none of the Public Enemies were alive and the FBI had become a national institution.
Here is a timeline of the Public Enemies Era (1933-1935): Public Enemies Era Timeline
Here is an essay on the Public Enemies Era for those who want a more detailed explanation. A mere 7,592 words.
Here is my podcast on the Public Enemy Era, it is 28 minutes long.
Here is a list of all of the movies on the Public Enemies Era:
Directed by William Keighley, starring James Cagney and Margaret Lindsay
An unsuccessful lawyer joins the FBI after his friend is killed while chasing outlaws loosely modeled on John Dillinger’s gang. The outlaws’ crime spree leads to FBI agents receiving permission to carry guns. (full review)
Directed by Max Nosseck, starring Lawrence Tierney and Anne Jeffreys
It shows the rise of John Dillinger from petty criminal to bank robber and finally Public Enemy Number One. (full review)
Directed by Don Siegel, starring Mickey Rooney and Carolyn Jones
Rising gangster Baby Face Nelson allies with John Dillinger to oppose Al Capone, criminal overlord of Chicago. (full review)
Directed by Roger Corman, starring Charles Bronson and Susan Cabot
Kelly is a tough talking bank robber who is dominated by his wife. He attracts the attention of the FBI when his gang kidnaps a little girl and her nurse. (full review)
Directed by William Whitey, starring Dorothy Provine and Jack Hogan
Ruthless outlaw Bonnie Parker leads her sidekick Guy Darrow and his brother Chuck on a rampage across the South-West, robbing banks and leaving a trail of dead bodies. (full review)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, starring James Stewart and Vera Miles
A veteran FBI agent relates his experience with the FBI from its humble beginnings through its battles with bank robbers, gangsters, Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and communists.
Directed by Bill Karn, starring Lurene Tuttle and Paul Dubov
Ma Barker leads her four sons in a wave of bank robberies and kidnappings, while providing advice for other gangsters. (full review)
Directed by Herbert J. Leder, starring John Ericson and Barry Newman
Tells the story of Pretty Boy Floyd, who was involved in the Kansas City Massacre and became a successful bank robber until the FBI finally tracked him down. (full review)
Directed by Arthur Penn, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway
During the middle of the Depression, a small gang of bank robbers go on a crime spree in the mid-West but as they become more famous, the police make greater efforts to hunt them down. (full review)
Directed by Larry Buchanan, starring Fabian and Jocelyn Lane
Pretty Boy Floyd becomes an outlaw after killing the man who murdered his father. (full review)
Directed by Roger Corman, starring Shelley Winters and Don Stroud
Determined to escape grinding poverty, Katherine Barker leads her four sons on a crime wave. (full review)
Directed by John Milius, starring Warren Oates and Ben Johnson
Following the death of several FBI agents during the Kansas City Massacre, FBI agent Melvin Purvis vows to capture or kill a number of famous outlaws including Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger. (full review)
Directed by Larry Cohen, starring Broderick Crawford and Michael Parks
It follows Hoover during the 48 years that he ran the FBI and examines his willingness to bend the constitution to defend the nation, as well as his refusal to retire and the fear of presidents to openly confront him.
Directed by Lewis Teague, starring Robert Conrad and Pamela Sue Martin
While hiding in Chicago, Dillinger starts a relationship with Polly Hamilton, a sometime prostitute looking for a better life. (full review)
Directed by Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale
Led by agent Melvin Purvis, the FBI hunts outlaws and bank robbers, including John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and the Barker-Karpis gang. (full review)
Directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Arnie Hammer
As director of the FBI for almost fifty years, J. Edgar Hoover symbolized law enforcement to the nation. Viewed as a master of secrets, he actually struggled to keep secret his romantic relationship with Clyde Tolson, the assistant director of the Bureau. (full review)
Directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Emile Hirsch and Holiday Grainger
A young waitress falls in love with an outlaw, and they embark on a crime spree. (full review)
Directed by John Lee Hancock, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson
Following the death of a prison guard during an escape, former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer hunts down the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. (full review)