Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloody weekend with Dillinger, Salome and Duluth's Central Hillside

By Jim Heffernan

Let me tell you about my violent weekend.

First, I saw the movie “Public Enemies.” It’s interesting – all about the life and death of 1930s bank robber and killer John Dillinger.

Particularly interesting to me were the final scenes, when the FBI assassinated Dillinger as he left the Biograph Theater in Chicago after viewing a movie. On a visit when I was about 12, an uncle who lived in Chicago pointed the theater out to me as we drove past it. It made quite an impression on me, one that has lasted to this day.

The movie, starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger, portrays the outlaw’s demise very well, with the Biograph marquee looking like I remember it when I saw the theater some 17 years after Dillinger was killed there. Dillinger walks out of the theater with the two women who accompanied him, one of whom had betrayed him, moves down the street on a warm summer night, and a host of waiting FBI agents fills him full of lead.

They were as merciless as Dillinger and other members of his gang were portrayed as they roved around the Midwest robbing banks and breaking out of jails, sometimes killing innocent people in the process. There are a lot of dead bodies in “Public Enemies,” some of them crooks, some of them lawmen, some innocent bystanders. Violence galore. Blood galore.

And there’s torture to boot as the lawmen attempt to get captured crooks to reveal Dillinger’s whereabouts.

I have become increasingly disenchanted with so much violence in movies and on TV. One place you can usually avoid it is in church, which I attended the Sunday after seeing “Public Enemies” on Saturday night. But I was not to avoid more violence that weekend – not even in church.

The day’s gospel was from the New Testament book of Mark in which the story of the demise of John the Baptist – not to be confused with John the Dillinger -- is described in rather gory detail in the translation employed by the modern church.

It tells the tale of King Herod who marries his brother’s wife (well, ex-wife) and is criticized by John the Baptist for doing so. This inspires the enmity of Herod’s new wife, whose daughter Salome dances the dance of seven veils, which so inspires Herod he offers her half his kingdom or any other wish she might have. Salome discusses this with her mother, who tells her to ask for the severed head of John the Baptist on a platter.

So they decapitate John and deliver up his head, a scene portrayed in several movies – Rita Hayworth made a seductive Salome -- and even in opera.

Gruesome. So gruesome, in fact, that the minister apologized to the parents of young children in the congregation for preaching on this text. Of course, there’s as much violence in the Bible as there was in America 75-plus years ago (let’s not forget the St. Valentine’s Day massacre -- or maybe we should), and continues everywhere today.

Safe at home on Sunday night, we heard about a shooting in Duluth’s Central Hillside that we learned the next day resulted in the death of one man – bullet in the head – and injury to another – bullet in the thigh.

By then I was so inured to the weekend’s violence that I didn’t bat an eye.

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