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It's kind of funny that the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy movie and Tim
Batman movie were released so close to each other. Each movie tried
valiantly to recreate the atmosphere of their respective comics with high
impact visuals. However, Batman did a much better job carrying the comic's
look and feel over to the big screen. The new Dick Tracy movie's wild
and cheesy backdrops took away from the all-star cast that the producers
together. The original Dick Tracy movie featuring Morgan Conway is much
realistic and doesn't try as hard to be a live action comic strip and is
better movie for it.
First off, things must be said about Morgan Conway's portrayal of everyone's favorite detective. He bears a decent resemblance to his 2-D counterpart, but not one nearly as uncanny as Ralph Byrd's look. Nevertheless, Conway does a good job getting across Tracy's tough as nails yet sympathetic family-oriented character. You can't help but think that Conway looks and sounds too much like Humphrey Bogart to be Dick Tracy though.
Anne Jeffries and Mickey Kuhn as Tess and Junior do decent jobs as well. Pat Patton is a little deemphasized though, something that would remedied in future films. The scarred Splitface doesn't have the personality that some of the comic strip characters do, but he's passable as an original character. The whole movie doesn't try to be exactly like the comic as the 1960's Batman and the latest Dick Tracy movie did later. Rather, it's more true-to-life with some subtle hints of its comic roots. It keeps the stereotypical police department, the daring feats of courage by the heroes and the rogues gallery of characters from the strip while giving Dick Tracy's world a more real feel. That real-world feel puts this movie a cut above the 1990 movie.
I suppose everyone has his or her own idea of what Dick Tracy should
look like out of his cartoon realm. It seems from reading some of the
comments that Morgan Conway was no one's idea. I guess in my head I've
always thought of John Larkin, the original Mike Carr on "Edge of
Night" to be a good person for Tracy. Conway seems more of a character
actor and less of a lead than I imagine Tracy. He has a pleasant smile,
Anne Jeffreys, now at 80+ and absolutely gorgeous to this day, was asked about the Dick Tracy series a few years ago, and she denied ever making any Dick Tracy movies. It wasn't that she disdained them, but they were turned out so quickly, she had no recollection of doing them.
This was a decent programmer but not much came through as far as personalities, except perhaps from Mike Mazurki as Splitface. The film moves along well. The subplot with Jane Greer seemed totally superfluous and never was resolved. Oh, well, soon enough, she would be on to better things.
Despite a rather routine production, this B-mystery is worth watching for the story, which is not bad. The beginning sets things up rather well, with Tracy trying to figure out both who the elusive 'Splitface' might be, and how he chose his apparently unconnected victims. There are several fairly interesting characters that he encounters along the way, and things move at a good pace most of the time. With a bigger budget and perhaps a little better writing here and there (in particular, to give poor Tess some better lines), it could be quite good. But there's no reason to quibble too much with it the way it is, since it's more than enough to provide decent entertainment for an hour or so.
If you're expecting MALTESE FALCON you're in the wrong place. This
first in the RKO Dick Tracy movies based on Chester Gould's hardboiled
policeman is very faithful to the source material and a LOT of fun.
The cast is well chosen and Morgan Conway looks like he stepped right off the comics page.
What is unexpected is the inky black noirish camera work, something that was very rare for a B-picture. The entire series was entertaining, with Ralph Byrd replacing Conway for the third and fourth installments, and the two earliest entries were geared towards an adult audience as shown in the violence depicted.
Pull the stick out of your crack, sit back and enjoy some very entertaining little films from a more innocent time, when our good guys were someone to look up to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You can take this as intended, a minor story with familiar characters
cast more of less (however incongruously) in noir terms -- noir at
least in terms of the out-of-the-blue deaths of the victims.
Or you can watch it as one in several in a line bridging comics and movies. It wasn't until Tim Burton's "Batman" then Beatty's "Tracy" that we will really have a comic reality with abstractions specific to comics.
It is a major addition to the vocabulary of film realities, still evolving but probably as important as noir and the detective narrative. You could probably skip this movie in tracing the history back, but if you happen to stumble on it there are some interesting features.
One is the very deliberate attempt at noir. The detective clearly emulates Bogart's speech. The girls are noirish, which is to say that they are halfway between characters and props. The photography is deliberately in that direction.
But instead of referencing the comic itself, it derives from the radio version of the comic in the way the story moves. (A mutilated con takes revenge on the jury that convicted him.)
Along the way, we have a smooth night club owner (who doesn't know how to manage apostrophes), a creepy mortician named "Deathridge," and a spooky "student of the occult" who seems to have deep insights into the noirish fate to come.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
DICK TRACY has the film noir look of the '40s and some interesting plot
devices involving a slasher out for revenge. With its brief running time and
low-budget values, it's strictly the kind of fare that used to play the
lower half of double bills for the Saturday matinee crowds.
Still, it's not bad as far as these B-pics go (some excellent B&W photography)--but MORGAN CONWAY is nobody's idea of what the famous sleuth should look like. RALPH BYRD was a much better choice in those Tracy serials--he must have been busy when they got to making this one. Anne Jeffreys is pert and pretty as Tess but has little to do. (Did Hollywood ever give her a substantial role?) Little Mickey Kuhn (he was Beau Wilkes in GWTW and the young man Vivien Leigh flirted with in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) is delightful as the boy detective who helps solve the case.
For the villain of the piece, we have Mike Mazurki wearing a scar that looks like a decent make-up job and hulking in the shadows whenever the next murder takes place.
Not bad, and certainly one of the better entries in the DICK TRACY films of the '40s--but what it needed was square-jawed RALPH BYRD in the title role.
Summing up: a good programmer.
The first of four Dick Tracy films that were made by RKO Studios in the
Forties is a straight action filled drama so unlike the live cartoon
that Warren Beatty did and cast with a bunch of Hollywood names. Morgan
Conway plays the square jawed detective with Anne Jeffreys as the
eternally faithful and eternally exasperated Tess Truehart. If ever a
man was wed to his job it was Dick Tracy as a homicide cop.
The villain here is Mike Mazurki excellently cast as Splitface and one look at him and you know why he's named that. He's responsible for a string of brutal stabbings and those scars he bares both give the city fright, but also make him impossible to trace since they were acquired in prison and render him unrecognizable. He's picked a cross section of citizens as his targets and while I think the viewer will figure it out before Conway puts it together, it's still a lot of fun.
A subsidiary villain in the film is Trevor Bardette playing a con man astrologer and hypnotist. Bardette has a real field day with the part.
Dick Tracy Detective is a fairly good B film from RKO Studios and the cast looks like they're having a good time.
If you had given Dick Tracy's name to any police type in any movie of the forties, it would be indistinguishable. The fact is that while this is a modestly entertaining movie, the comic strip being of it is just not there. Where is the technology, the distinctive sense of the comic strip? It's just not there. There is some semblance of humor, the byplay among the other detectives and Tess's frustration with dating the great detective (she never gets to go to dinner), but it still doesn't reproduce the comic strip. All that considered, it's a decent movie with an interesting plot. Like so many Tracy characters, Split Face is carrying around his angst, wanting to get back at those who convicted him. He is nasty, but has the fatal flaw of carelessness. Tracy is pretty dull, but I was a religious reader of the comic strip as a child and liked his silence. His romantic relationship always seemed forced to me. A real comic book hero shouldn't have time for women, right.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It used to always make me wonder, even as a kid, why a movie's
murderous villain would sneak up close to one of the story's lead
characters and fail to close the deal. It made me consider them
entirely inept, even while they were leaving a trail of bodies behind
elsewhere throughout the picture. The scene with Mike Mazurki's
Splitface creaking open the door right next to Tess Trueheart (Anne
Jeffreys) is a prime example. Of course had he followed through,
millions of Dick Tracy fans across America would have been severely
outraged, and with good cause. But it gives you an idea why this kind
of suspense doesn't work very well today, if it ever did.
Then there's Splitface - what's the deal with him? Here's a villain that's probably got the most distinctive scar that can be used to identify him, and he signs his threatening notes with - 'Splitface'! Now I don't know about you, but if I were going to try and extort a pile of money from someone, I wouldn't sign it using my own nickname, especially if it could identify me with a characteristic that no one else could possibly have. And since I'm on the subject, it would have been enlightening to learn how Splitface got his unique disfigurement.
While watching the picture, the thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the way Splitface dispatched his victims. Done mostly in darkened silhouette, you still get a pretty good sense that the murders were extremely violent utilizing a stab and slash technique that appeared pretty gruesome. Done today, you would have the requisite amount of spurting and gushing blood, but even without it, the couple times you see Splitface in action solidifies his character as one mean hombre. You have to hand it to Mike Mazurki, he made for a pretty scary character.
This was my first look at Morgan Conway in any kind of role, and I'm on the side of many reviewers on this board who feel he doesn't quite fit the bill. When they both first appeared on screen together, I would have guessed that it was Lyle Latell who played Tracy, except that he was the shorter of the two, and that wouldn't have worked. As for Anne Jeffreys, it's always cool to see her in a picture; my own best recollection of her as a kid growing up was the role of Marion Kirby in the 'Topper" TV series.
It would have been cool if the movie offered some of those well punned nicknames like you had in "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" - I'm thinking about villains like I.M. Learned and Dr. A. Tomic. They were a mainstay of the Chester Gould comic strip, and I always got a kick out of those. Here, the best they could come up with was the name for the undertaker - a bit of a stretch that he would go by Deathridge.
Dick is faced with a series of brutal murders in which the victims, all
from different social and economic backgrounds, are viciously slashed
Suspects abound but Tracy, getting a clue that there will be fifteen murders in all, must find the common thread among the victims before more are killed.
These RKO B pictures are really good. I've very surprised that given Hollywood's lack of creativity these days that no one is developing a Dick Tracy series.
The movie will not change your life, but it's satisfying and a decent watch.
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