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After taking 20 dollars from his employer to go on a date with plans to repay it the next day, an auto mechanic falls into increasingly disastrous circumstances for more and more money which rapidly spirals out of his control.
A gang of criminals, which includes a piano player and an imposing former convict known as 'Gruesome', has found out about a scientist's secret formula for a gas that temporarily paralyzes anyone who breathes it. When Gruesome accidentally inhales some of the gas and passes out, the police think he is dead and take him to the morgue, where he later revives and escapes. This puzzling incident attracts the interest of Dick Tracy, and when the criminals later use the gas to rob a bank, Tracy realizes that he must devote his entire attention to stopping them.Written by
Of the cast, Anne Gwynne was the last to pass away in 2003 at age 84 at the Motion Picture Retirement Home in Woodland Hills, CA. Edward Ashley lived the longest to age 95, passing away in 2000. Ralph Byrd lived the shortest, passing away at age 43 in 1952. Skelton Knaggs also only lived to age 43, but passed away in 1955. See more »
I first saw this movie on late-night TV in the 1970s, and have seen it a few more times since. It has held up very well, except for the bank robbery scene, which really does get annoying on repeated viewings.
The very effective opening sequence introduces us to the menacing Gruesome (Karloff), his partner in crime Melody, and creepy new associate X-Ray (Skelton Knaggs). Gruesome collapses after inhaling some experimental gas and ends up in the morgue. He awakens and lights a cigarette; Pat Patton, at this desk nearby, notices something in the air but goes back to his writing, and is soon knocked cold by Gruesome, who makes his escape. There's a deft mixture of suspense and comedy in this scene, capped by Patton's line to Tracy, "If I didn't know better I'd swear we were doing business with Boris Karloff!"
By contrast, the bank robbery looks like a 50s sitcom, as the release of paralyzing gas causes everybody on the premises to freeze-frame in a cartoony manner. It's easy to understand why the scene was handled this way; a more realistic treatment that showed the bank customers clutching their throats and writhing as they crumbled to the floor might have been deemed too grim. But I wish this scene hadn't been played entirely as a joke, because it dispels the dark mood established by what went before.
Most viewers probably don't consider the talky scene in which Tracy meets Professor I.M. Learned to be a highlight, but it's one of my favorite parts. I can't tell if June Clayworth (who plays Learned) was much of an actress, but she is just right as the mousy scholar who might or might not be trustworthy. Learned's confrontation with Tracy is alive with ambiguity, and fun to watch.
There are many nice touches. Gruesome always has a toothpick in his mouth, and it shifts like the darting tongue of a reptile. When Gruesome and X-Ray bluff their way into a hospital by impersonating doctors, a desk guard asks Gruesome if he knows how to work the elevator. "Like the fingers on my hand", Gruesome replies, making a trigger-finger gesture.
Strong cast, brisk pace, and nice visual style lift this movie a cut above the average programmer.
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