Old Cars Add Authenticity to Dillinger Film

Is your car a star?

    Many Old Cars Weekly readers’ vehicles have been involved in filming of the upcoming movie “Public Enemies,” which stars Johnny Depp under direction of Michael Mann. We know the real stars are your cars, and if your vehicle was used in the filming, we’d like to include it in an upcoming feature story in Old Cars Weekly.

    To be included in the story, car owners may e-mail angelo.vanbogart@fwpubs.com or write to Old Cars Weekly, 700 E. State St.,
Iola, WI 54990 to be included in the story. Please submit your name; your car’s make, model and year; and a photograph, either taken on the set or elsewhere, by May 31.

he small town of Columbus, Wis., was filled with excitement on St. Patrick’s Day, but it had nothing to do with the wearing of the green, unless you were talking about the green covers placed over the traffic lights to make them look like they were made in the 1930s.

    With antique cars parked up and down the street, the vintage stoplights had the perfect appearance for the Hollywood folk who had come to Columbus to start filming “Public Enemies,” a motion picture about 1930s gangster John Dillinger that stars Johnny Depp.

A 1934 Ford sedan is shown rigged up for an interior scene. Other cars were run through a dirt bath to make them look duller by the filmmakers. Potential damage by such rigging is not necessarily covered by collector-car insurance companies.

    Dillinger and his gang terrorized the Midwest in the early to mid-1930s, holding up banks and making headlines throughout Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The gang had a hideout in Little Bohemia in northern Wisconsin.

    Making movies is an age-old art, but it’s the news in villages, such as Columbus, where the streets were lined with about 500 residents and visitors hoping to catch glimpses of the stars or at least someone famous such as director Michael Mann. It was hard to do, since the police department was keeping an area several blocks around the filming clear of traffic.

    Around 2 a.m., members of the film crew started working, filling the streets with fake snow. Ironically, following several days of filming, and shortly after the movie makers left, the area received eight inches of snow. Of course, the fake snow was probably better for the antique cars that had been rented for the movie.

    Car collectors from Wisconsin have been abuzz about “Public Enemies” for several weeks. Newspapers in Madison, Milwaukee and Fond du Lac had all carried stories inviting owners of 1935 and earlier cars to “audition” their vehicles. Calls had also gone out to hire extras for street scenes and crowd shots.

A 1934 Lincoln, 1933 Dodge and an unidentified sedan line a Columbus, Wis., street during filming of the motion picture “Public Enemies.” Meanwhile, Scott and Kristie Maynard’s 1933 Graham rounds a corner behind a 1931 Ford Model A.

    In each location, arrangements were made to rent dozens of vintage automobiles. One of these cars was a 1932 Studebaker sedan, said to have been used by John Dillinger when he held up a bank in Crown Point, Ind. It is part of Wayne Lensing’s Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, Ill. Museum curator Eric Hoffman brought it to Columbus, but was not filmed, though many other cars were.

    Rod Melotte, of Fort Atkinson, Wis., photographed many of the cars involved in the bank robbery scene in Columbus in a nostalgic style that brought back a true feeling of the 1930s. One car was rigged up with a large filming platform that allowed its driver to be photographed while behind the wheel.

    After two days of filming in Columbus, the filming moved to Darlington, Wis., where interior scenes only were shot in the Lafayette County Courthouse on March 19. Tom Gunnell, a staff writer for the Darlington Republican Journal, said there was lots of excitement there too. “The local police chief had a role in the movie and had to get his hair cut in 1930s style,” Gunnell reported. “I saw him the next day in his regular uniform and he looked different.” On Thursday, the crew went back to Columbus and wound up beating the real snow that came Friday.

    The next stop was Crown Point, Ind.  where on March 3, 1934, Dillinger escaped captivity by whittling a gun from a wooden washboard and painting it black with shoe polish. He was able to lock 33 people, including the warden, in the jail and then make his escape in a shiny new Ford V-8.

    For anyone who wants to follow the progress of the making of “Public Enemies,” the following blog gives the Columbus perspective on the filmmaking experience — http://www.publicenemiescolumbus.blogspot.com.