In preparation for his role as Melvin Purvis, Christian Bale met with Purvis's son, Alston, and several close friends of the real Melvin Purvis in order to learn his attitudes, mannerisms, and speech patterns. By the same token, Johnny Depp went to the John Dillinger Museum in Indiana and was allowed to read some of his letters. According to Depp in the DVD documentary, he even tried on the pants Dillinger wore the night he was shot. With a laugh, Depp says the pants fit him perfectly.
On the commentary, Michael Mann reports that a crew member pointed out that the date was April 22nd. Mann then realized, that they were actually filming on the anniversary of the actual shootout of the Little Bohemia lodge.
While filming on location in Oshkosh, WI a boy aged 11 told Johnny Depp he loved his fedora hat and would like to have one like it. Depp told the boy he would see what he could do about that. After filming finished, Depp sent the boy the hat in the mail.
During a getaway scene following a bank robbery, Johnny Depp drives an actual 1932 Studebaker that was used by Dillinger as a getaway car, following a bank robbery in Greencastle, Indiana. The car was borrowed from a nearby auto museum during filming in Columbus, Ohio.
For John Dillinger's famous escape from Crown Point Jail, the film makers decided to film at the real jail which had been closed and turned into a set of small shops and became a historical site. They dressed the jail and store fronts on the square to it's original condition as it would've appeared in 1934. They also filmed the Little Bohemia shoot out at the real lodge. Johnny Depp was actually staying in the same room the real Dillinger stayed in.
In a Senate hearing scene, when asked how many people he has arrested personally, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) sheepishly admits, "I have never arrested anybody." In real life, this was a point of embarrassment to Hoover, and he decided to correct it. On May 1, 1936, FBI agents tracked down Alvin Carpis (played by Giovanni Ribisi in the film) in New Orleans. Hoover flew to New Orleans and personally arrested Karpis as he sat in his car outside his hideout. News reports of the arrest made Hoover a national hero, and solidified his image as a powerful law enforcement officer. However, Karpis later claimed that Hoover's involvement in his arrest was not quite so heroic. Supposedly, Hoover waited in a nearby FBI car while Federal agents surrounded Karpis as gunpoint. Then Hoover walked over to Karpis and told him he was under arrest. When Hoover told the FBI agents, "Put the cuffs on him, boys" the FBI men realized they hadn't brought any handcuffs, and Karpis's hands had to be secured using an agent's necktie.
In the movie, John Dillinger and other bank robbers are seen having friendly relations with the Chicago mobsters. Specifically with Phillip D'Andrea, a top lieutenant in the Al Capone mob. In real life, Al Capone was said to admire bank robbers and would often allow bandits safe haven in Chicago under the mob's protection. However, as also shown in the movie, after Frank Nitti took over the mob following Al Capone's conviction for tax evasion, he cut off such resources to outlaws like Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Alvin Carpis because of the "heat" that was being brought down on the mobs because of the FBI's furious hunt for these men.
Although Billie Frechette was never given "third degree" interrogation by the FBI as shown in the movie, the FBI agents did in fact perform similar tactics on Helen Nelson (the wife of Baby Face Nelson), Alvin Carpis, and a John Dillinger associate in Chicago named James Probasco. In the instance of Probasco, he ended up falling to his death from a upper-floor window. Offically, it is believed he committed suicide in order to avoid further interrogation. However, some historians believe that the FBI agents interrogating Probasco attempted to make him talk by hanging him out of a window and that the agents lost their grip on Probasco.
The melodramatic dialog between John Dillinger's lawyer Louis Piquett (pronounced "Pickett"), prosecutor Robert Estill, and Sherriff Lilian Holley concerning the removal of Dillinger's shackles and Piquett's request to keep Dillinger at Crown Point are virtually word for word the interaction between them in the court records. This includes Sherriff Holley's affirmation (which later proved a regretful statement) that Crown Point was "The safest jail in Indiana."
It's true that John Dillinger enjoyed taking photographs of police officers when the opportunity presented itself, and even late in his career he would often attend Cubs games and frequent bars in Chicago, but he probably didn't enter the offices of the Dillinger Squad, as depicted in the film. Dillinger also tended to brag about his exploits. As with many other events in his life, he would have surely related such a fantastic thing to his family, his lawyer, or his lawyer's investigator, Art O'Leary, a man Dillinger often confided in. However, according to Bryan Burrough's book, he did enter the same building as the Chicago police department on a few occasions, and he did accompany Polly Hamilton into the building to get her waitress's license.
Billie Frechette (real name Mary Evelyn Frechette) was actually married to one Welton Spark at the time of her relationship with John Dillinger. She married Spark in July 1932. He was convicted shortly thereafter for mail theft and received a 15-year term in Leavenworth, with a transfer to Alcatraz in September 1934. Her divorce from Spark wasn't finalized until the early '40s. She later married a man named Wally Wilson, the name she took to the grave. Wilson died unexpectedly, cause unknown, date unknown. Billie married Art Tic in 1965, a state game warden and barber from Shawano, Wisconsin. She died January 13, 1969, of mouth cancer. Mysteriously, her grave marker lists her name as Evelyn Tic (apparently against her wishes) and has the incorrect date of death as 1970.
Dillinger's line to a bank customer during a robbery - "We're here for the bank's money, not yours." - echoes a similar exchange between Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and a farmer during a bank robbery in Arthur Penn's classic, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). ("Is that your money or the bank's?" "It's mine." You keep it then.") There is some dispute over which real-life bank robber spoke this line. Supposedly, John Dillinger said it to a bank customer while robbing a bank in Greencastle, Indiana. However, some crime historians attribute the line to Charles Arthur Pretty Boy Floyd. Most crime historians agree that the psychotic Clyde Barrow never used the line. This scene also shares familiarity with the bank scene in Michael Mann's Heat (1995), where Robert De Niro's character states: "We're here for the bank's money, not yours."
After his embarrassment before the Senate Appropriations Comitte, J. Edgar Hoover is telling his assistant to release a press statement through Walter Winchell to discredit the senator who humiliated Hoover. Walter Winchell was famous radio show host and New York news columnist who was friends with Hoover. Winchell also hung around with famous New York gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello.
While at the horse track in Florida, Frank Nitti asks Phillip D'Andrea whether or not it's hot outside, saying "Ever since those pricks shot me, I can't stay warm." This is an allusion to a failed attempt on Nitti's life by a corrupt cop named Harry Lang who tried and failed to murder Nitti during a police raid.
John Hamilton was actually mortally wounded in a gun battle with police near Hastings, Minnesota, hours after leaving Little Bohemia. Hamilton died three or four days later, depending on the source, at the apartment of Barker-Karpis gang member Volney Davis in Aurora, Illinois. John Dillinger and Van Meter, along with members of the Barker-Karpis gang, buried Hamilton in a gravel pit in Oswego, Illinois. In an attempt to prevent identification of the body, 10 cans of lye were poured on the corpse and the right hand was cut off. Agents recovered the body on August 28, 1935. The Bureau was able to identify Hamilton by his teeth. Hamilton's teeth were later exhibited at the 1939 midwinter meeting of the Chicago Dental Society. Where Hamilton's choppers are presently located is unknown. A gruesome FBI photo of the recovered body can be seen in the photo section of Dary Matera's "The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal."
There is a scene where J. Edgar Hoover is giving out Junior G Man Badges to young men who may enter into law enforcement at some point. Al Pacino asks Tone Loc "What Do You Want For That, A Junior G Man Badge," in Michael Mann's classic Heat (1995).
Dillinger is shown serenading his hostages while driving away from the prison escape by singing "The Last Round-Up". "The Last Round-Up" was published in 1933. It became songwriter Billy Hill's biggest hit. It wasn't long before the song became No. 1 and stayed there for 9 weeks. According to Lee Hill Taylor, while her father was working on a ranch in Montana he asked one of the cowboys why they continued to ride in a round-up when they got older. The cowboy told him there was a time when they had to stop and that would be their "last round-up." Right after their brief conversation this cowboy was riding his horse and was accidentally knocked off and trampled to death. Hill never forgot that terrible accident and used it as the basis for his memorable song.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The gunfight at the lodge in the woods was filmed at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, WI which is the actual location where the gunfight between John Dillinger and the FBI took place in 1934. In fact, shell casings from the 1934 gunfight can still be found in the woods surrounding the lodge.
After ratting John Dillinger out to the Bureau in exchange for assurances that she be allowed to stay in the U.S., Anna Sage (real name Ana Cumpanas) collected a $5,000 reward and was duly deported back to Romania 21 months after the Biograph shooting.
Just before Dillinger goes to the movies the night he is killed, when John is washing and shaving, the camera pans across a table with his pocket watch, gun, glasses, and a money belt. According to Anna Sage (aka "The Woman In Red"), John Dillinger was wearing a money belt with $3,000 inside. However, when Dillinger was killed, the money belt was nowhere to be found. Historians have speculated that Sgt. Martin Zarkovich, who was a part of Melvin Purvis' posse at the theater, stole the money.
Due to the concern of grave robbers, officials at Crown Hill Cemetery persuaded John Dillinger's father to have his famous son's grave re-opened so as to place staggered concrete slabs, along with poured concrete and chicken wire, in and around the grave as a permanent deterrent. He'd already been offered $10,000 from a Wisconsin carnival man to "borrow" Dillinger's body for his show, an offer that was fiercely rejected. The grave work was done within a day or two of the initial burial. The identity of who paid for this expensive preventative measure is unknown.
When Melvin Purvis shoots down Pretty Boy Floyd, he asks Floyd for info on the whereabouts of Harry Campbell. In reality, Floyd was never associated with Campbell who robbed banks with Alvin Carpis and "Ma" Barker's sons. The reason for this question may have been to simplify the narrative of the story. In real life, "Pretty Boy" Floyd was wanted by the FBI for his alleged part in the "Kansas City Massacre" on June 17th, 1933 in which an FBI agent, two Kansas policemen, a retired Oklahoma sheriff, and their captive Frank "Jelly" Nash, were ambushed and killed. This was the crime that set into motion the rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and the start of the "War On Crime". Since this fact would (or could) possibly make the story on film more convoluted, the film makers instead have Purvis question Floyd about Campbell rather than the massacre as he did in real life.
Most accounts have John Dillinger dying within moments of getting shot outside of the Biograph. According to Special Agent Robert Gillespie, who was right beside the outlaw after he fell, it was approximately three minutes before Dillinger took his last gasp of air.
The portrayal of the death of gangster George Baby Face Nelson in this film is completely fictionalized. On November 27, 1934 (four months after Dillinger's death), Nelson encountered two FBI agents, Samuel Cowley and Ed Hollis, in Barrington, Illinois, just outside Chicago. In a roadside battle, Nelson shot and killed both FBI agents, but was mortally wounded. He escaped in a bullet-riddled car driven by his wife, and died that evening in a nearby safe house. Nelson's body was found the next day, wrapped in a blanket and lying in a ditch next to a cemetery in Skokie, Illinois. His wife placed a call to police to tell them where to find the body.
At one point, Alvin Karpis is seen planning a federal reserve train robbery with John Dillinger. In real life, the robbery was set up by an underworld associate of Dillinger, Karpis, and Baby Face Nelson named William Murray. Interestingly, Murray had set up the exact same robbery back in 1925 with the Newton Brothers (as seen in the film The Newton Boys (1998)). Although John Dillinger was killed before he could take part in the robbery, Alvin Carpis did pull it off on November 7th, 1935.
In the movie, the first public enemy to get gunned down by the FBI is Pretty Boy Floyd but in real life, Floyd died three months after John Dillinger. His funeral was the largest in Oklahoma history, attracting an estimated 20,000 people. The next one to get killed is Baby Face Nelson where the agents were shown chasing down Nelson during a raid of Dillinger's hideout. In reality, this was Nelson's most famous escape, and every single criminal got away unharmed. Dillinger and Baby Face went on to rob more banks, and Nelson wasn't actually killed until after Dillinger was. In the movie, Dillinger was depicted as having fooled three prison guards with a wooden knife but in reality, he fooled seventeen.
In the scene where Baby Face Nelson kills FBI Agent Carter Baum, Nelson really did say "I know you sons of bitches wear vests, so I'm gonna hit you high and low!" Also, the gun Nelson uses in that scene, a .45 Automatic modified into a mini-machine gun, was something Nelson actually used (as did Homer Van Meter). It was made especially for Nelson by a gunsmith in San Antonio, Texas. The customized Colt Government Super 1911 used by Dillinger's gang had a Thompson front grip attached to the frame, a Thompson Cutts compensator, an extended magazine, and was chambered for .38 Super. .38 Super ammunition was used by both federal agents and outlaws due to the round's speed, allowing it to pierce body armor and engine blocks.
John Dillinger was shot to death by FBI agents on the night of July 22, 1934 while exiting Chicago's Biograph Theater, where he had attended a screening of Manhattan Melodrama (1934). While the Biograph Theater was still operating at the time of the production of 'Public Enemies,' the interior had been converted into a number of smaller venues, and no longer resembled the Depression-era movie palace it had been at the time of Dillinger's death. Production scouts for 'Public Enemies' found that the Paramount Theatre in nearby Aurora, Illinois resembled the Biograph Theater of 1934 enough to double as that venue. For that reason, the interiors for two scenes were filmed there: The scene in which John Dillinger and his cohorts attend a movie and are alarmed to see themselves and their photographs featured during a newsreel, and the scene taking place immediately prior to Dillinger's death. The exterior of the Biograph Theater during the latter scene, however, depicts that actual historic venue, 'dressed' to appear as it did in 1934.