Public Enemies is an American film, released in July 2009, directed by Michael Mann, based on the book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34, by Bryan Burrough. The story takes place during the time of the Great Depression, and centers around FBI agent Melvin Purvis and his attempts to arrest criminals John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. The role of agent Melvin Purvis is played by actor Christian Bale, Johnny Depp is John Dillinger, Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s girlfriend Billie Frechette.
The ending of Public Enemies might not be as surreal as the ending of some other movies, but we have decided to explain what actually happened in the end of the movie. We are going to analyze the narrative elements of the story, as well as the meaning of the final scene, and what the protagonist actually said, which what people are most interested in.
What happens in Public Enemies?
In 1933, in the state prison of Michigan City (Indiana), the captured bank robbers Walter Dietrich, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont and Ed Shouse succeeded in overpowering some guards with the help of smuggled weapons. At the same time, gang leader John Dillinger and his partner John “Red” Hamilton gain access to the prison’s entrance area, in which Hamilton, disguised with a police badge, pretends to want to hand Dillinger over to serve a new prison sentence.
Together, the gang members can disarm more guards and take control of the main gate. However, when Shouse, in a fit of rage, kills one of the law enforcement officers, a scuffle ensues, with a shot being fired that alerts the sentries on the towers of the prison wall. Instead of escaping unmolested in the guards’ uniforms, as originally planned, the gangsters only reach their getaway car after an intense firefight in which Dietrich, Dillinger’s friend and mentor, is fatally wounded.
Dillinger then breaks up with Shouse, whom he blames for Dietrich’s death by throwing him out of the moving car. Following the advice of corrupt cop Zarkovich, the four remaining gang members make their way to Chicago, 30 miles west, where they place themselves under the protection of the local crime syndicate.
In East Liverpool, Ohio, FBI agent Melvin Purvis and his men catch fugitive criminal Pretty Boy Floyd. Purvis shoots Floyd dead after a wild chase in an orchard and is then presented to the press as a heroic figure by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover declares war on crime and hires Purvis to track down John Dillinger. In the meantime Dillinger, who keeps the country in suspense with further spectacular bank robberies, has fallen in love with the cloakroom attendant Billie Frechette and starts a relationship with her.
While searching for Dillinger, Purvis encounters the equally notorious gangster Baby Face Nelson, who, however, manages to kill an agent and then escape. Purvis then enlists the support of some hardened Southern law enforcement officers, who, led by Texan Charles Winstead, soon arrive in Chicago.
While staying in Tucson, Arizona, Dillinger and his men are arrested by police after guns are found in their hotel room. The bank robbers are extradited to Indiana and tried there. After the windy attorney Piquett managed to delay the start of the trial by a month, Dillinger uses the time gained to escape from the local jail with a dummy pistol he made himself.
However, he cannot meet with Billie because she is under FBI surveillance, and he also loses the support of the Chicago Mafia, since their boss Frank Nitti sees his crooked sports betting business endangered by the police actions carried out in the search for Dillinger. Together with his old friend “Red” Hamilton, former gang member Ed Shouse, Tommy Carroll, Homer Van Meter and Baby Face Nelson, whom he actually hates because of his unpredictability, Dillinger plans a robbery on the bank of Sioux Falls (South Dakota), in which is said to contain a significant amount of money.
With the hoped-for loot he also wants to free Pierpont and Makley from prison. However, the raid ends in a bloodbath, killing several passers-by and police officers. Carroll is left with a shot in the head and is presumed dead by his cronies, but falls into the hands of the FBI and, under torture, reveals to Purvis, under torture, the meeting place of the other gang members – the remote flophouse “Little Bohemia Lodge” at Rhinelander in the Wisconsin woods.
On the night of April 22, 1934, the agents stormed Dillinger’s safehouse, which resulted in another fierce firefight, killing a few uninvolved civilians as well as an FBI official and four of the five bank robbers. Dillinger manages to escape.
How does Public Enemies end?
In Chicago, Dillinger, who has been declared “Public Enemy No. 1” by the FBI, lives with Billie for a short time until she falls into the hands of the police. Despite being abused by brutal agent Harold Reinecke unbeknownst to Purvis, she does not reveal the whereabouts of her lover. Dillinger finds accommodation with the brothel owner Anna Sage, who, however, betrays him to the police when Purvis threatens her with deportation to her homeland of Banat.
On July 22, 1934, while Dillinger was visiting the Clark Gable film “Manhattan Melodrama” with Anna and Polly Hamilton, one of her ladies, FBI agents stationed themselves in front of the cinema. When leaving the cinema, Dillinger becomes suspicious; but he can no longer draw his gun and is shot by Agent Winstead, among others. He visits Billie in prison to tell her her lover’s last words: “Bye Bye Blackbird”, the title of the song that had been playing when Dillinger and Billie first met.
What does John Dillinger say at the end of the movie?
If you payed attention to the movie’s ending, you’ll have noticed that Dillinger’s dying words had a true impact on the final scene. Namely, before ultimately dying, Dillinger says the following words to agent Winstead: “Tell Billie for me, ‘Bye bye Blackbird.'” Now, this is nothing overly enigmatic, because if you’ve payed attention to the movie, you’ll have known – by the end credits – that is a reference to the song that was playing when Dillinger first met Billie; it becomes obvious why Billie cried so much.
Now, let us talk about the song a bit. “Bye Bye Blackbird” is composed by Ray Henderson, with lyrics by Mort Dixon. The song was released in 1926. The title was released by Vox Schallplatten AG in 1927 The nursery rhyme song “Bye Bye Blackbird” is a popular music standard; its first version was recorded by Gene Austin in 1926 and reached number one on the hit parade and stayed on the charts for twelve weeks.
Other recordings from the same year by Nick Lucas, Bennie Krueger and Leo Reisman also sold well. In 1948, Russ Morgan and His Orchestra also made it into the charts with the song. Until 1950 the song was not very popular with jazz singers. In addition to the numerous vocal versions by Eddie Cantor, Carmen McRae, Judy Garland, Etta Jones, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and Esther Phillips, “Bye Bye Blackbird” also became a jazz standard; John Coltrane built “a brilliant, almost free improvisation” on the November 1962 classic.
Coltrane posthumously received the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Recording. The title was long in the program of the classic Miles Davis Quintet; Coltrane had performed it there frequently, including on the 1957 album ‘Round About Midnight and at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In April 1961 Davis recorded the song again, this time with Hank Mobley on sax.
Ben Webster and Oscar Peterson played “Bye Bye Black Bird” in 1961; other versions are by Albert Ayler, Roland Kirk, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, Ray Brown, Ahmad Jamal, Roy Eldridge and Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer. In 1975, Rahsaan Roland Kirk used the song several times on his concept album The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color. Rickie Lee Jones performed the song accompanied by Joe Henderson on her 1991 album Pop Pop.
Keith Jarrett recorded an album with this title as an obituary for Miles Davis with his trio. Other more contemporary interpretations were provided by Joe Cocker, Jacky Terrasson, Fred Hersch and Till Brönner. The song was also used in films such as Sleepless in Seattle, Public Enemies interpreted by Diana Krall or with different lyrics as “Bye Bye Tatort” sung by Manfred Krug and Charles Brauer. Paul McCartney released his version on the 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom. An instrumental version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” was released by Johnny and the Hurricanes in 1959–1960.