Dick Tracy Special (2009)


Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy in 1990 movie

When I was growing up our small town had a single two screen theater where I and my friends were regulars.  We had a spot in the front row on the far left side where I sat next to the wall so I could put my feet up on a supporting beam.  Thinking back on it, this was the worst seat in the theater but at the time I thought we were pretty cool.  Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and Batman were the big movies of the time and I dragged my brother who was four years younger and still in grade school along with me.  In 1990, Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy came out and it was full of bullets, colors and gangsters.  I won’t tell you it changed my life, I think it had too much Madonna, but it did stick with my brother.  He really got into the movie and soon had an entire line of Dick Tracy figurines based on the movie and while I wouldn’t be caught dead playing with toys by 8th grade, I did get my hands on them when no one was looking so Dick Tracy could heroically gun down Big Boy, Pruneface, Flattop and the others.  Sam usually bought it in the crossfire because it was more dramatic.

I reminisce on this because a couple of years ago I was wondering why we haven’t seen a Dick Tracy movie or television show reboot.  Sherlock Holmes, Batman, heck even the Green Hornet have seen nostalgic resurrections and a serialized Dick Tracy with detective work, fierce action and signature villains sounds like a slam dunk.  The reason we haven’t seen Dick Tracy again stems back to Warren Beatty and the 1990 movie.  Beatty has great affection for the Dick Tracy character and has retained the film rights to Tracy since the movie.  In 2011 the Tribune Company, which had sold Beatty the movie rights sued Warren on the grounds he was no longer using said rights, which was a clause in the contract.  Surprisingly, Mr. Beatty won the legal battle with the help of the Dick Tracy Special.


Leonard Maltin interviews “Dick Tracy”

The Dick Tracy Special you say?  What the heck is that?  Warren Beatty produced this low-budget special in 2009 which served primarily to show he still had plans for Dick Tracy. The half-hour broadcast aired one-time and features Warren playing the role of Dick Tracy as Entertainment Tonight movie reviewer and film historian Leonard Maltin interviews “Dick Tracy”.  Beatty plays Dick as a real detective who has a comic strip and many movies created about his exploits and the interview feels like something we’ve seen time and again in the comic strip.  When asked about his age, Tracy finally admits that he is indeed over 100 years old, but that pomegranates are the key to youth.  Although interviewing a fictional person, Maltin stays true to his classic interviewing form, asking Dick his opinion on various subjects while keeping the audience historically informed with a couple good segments on Tracy’s film history.

The interview portion of the special comes off as a bit odd.  Here we have Tracy/Beatty commenting on the actors who have portrayed him in film and Tracy/Beatty finds himself discussing Beatty and his 1990 film.  Tracy is a bit harsh towards the actor, wishing he was more like Ralph Byrd and wondering about his knee-jerk liberalism.  Still, it’s funny to see Warren poke fun at his public image and I get the sense he really loves the Dick Tracy character.  If we take him at his word, Mr. Beatty still believes he can get a Dick Tracy sequel done, although at his age and after so many years this writer has doubts.  Former strip writer Max Allan Collins wrote the novelization of the Dick Tracy movie and two follow-up novels and I suspect that is the closest we will get to a Dick Tracy sequel and a Beatty led reboot would make much more sense.

While never sold as a DVD or re-broadcast, the Dick Tracy Special is still under copyright. However, like many other television snippets, it can be found on YouTube and will probably remain there until such time as a copyright holder asks it be brought down.  That may never happen with a piece such as this.  The Dick Tracy song when the credits roll quickly got added to my playlist and was done by Gertrude Forsher, Ben Wiesman and Fred Wise of The Chants.  Judging by the lyrics, it came out with the 1961-62 animated Dick Tracy cartoon.

Arsenic and Old Lace

ArsenicAndOldLaceDT2014With Arsenic and Old Lace playing such a prominent role in the current Gruesome story it’s about time we dug in to this Boris Karloff classic.

Arsenic and Old Lace is well-known as one of the most successful and enduring plays in the history of stage. Written by Joseph Kesselring and opening on Broadway in January of 1941, this was a dark comedy starring Mortimer Brewster who returns home while debating his plans for marriage and is forced to deal with his insane and homicidal family.

This wonderful family includes two spinster aunts, who have taken to murdering lonely old men with poison, a brother who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt and digs the Panama Canal in the basement and a murderous brother Jonathan Brewster played by Boris Karloff. In an effort to evade police capture, Jonathan has received plastic surgery from an alcoholic accomplice (Dr. Einstein) and the botched facial surgery is easily one of the most hilarious bits in the play when Jonathan realizes his new face makes him look exactly like Boris Karloff.

ArsenicandOldLacePlaybillDuring its original run, the play was extremely well received and closed in June of 1944 after an impressive 1,444 performances in New York City. In 1944 this made Arsenic and Old Lace a top 5 all time Broadway play and even today in 2014 it remains in the top 60.

A movie version of the play was made by Frank Capra in 1941 starring Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster. While produced in 1941, the film was not released until the New York play closed in 1944 and play managers prevent Karloff from taking part in the film for fear of lost ticket sales.

Throughout the years following the play’s initial run, Karloff would occasionally reprise his role on stage, radio and even in television. We wonder if Karloff, commonly type cast as a horror genre star might have seen the comedic Arsenic and Old Lace as a breath of fresh air.

Below we have linked a couple good videos on Arsenic and Old Lace:

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Dick Tracy Volume 18 on Pre-Order

DickTracyVol18Things are quiet on the Dick Tracy front as I think most of us are happily consuming the current Gruesome story line but we do have some news for Tracy comic collectors.  IDW’s Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 18 is now available for pre-order.  It’s hard to believe these collections are already through the end of the 1950’s and this book will be covering December 15, 1957 through July 11, 1959.  That includes villains Miss Egghead, Headache, Popsie, Pantsy and Rhodent.

Who is Gruesome?

DickTracyGruesomeWith Halloween right around the corner it’s time to get Gruesome!  Mike Curtis has teased us with Dick Tracy’s fall enemy, the fearsome 1947 film foe Gruesome.  Like Cueball before him, Gruesome’s comic strip introduction is occurring six and a half decades after his 1947 film debut and we excited to see him added to the comic strip canon.

So who is Gruesome?  RKO Pictures created 4 Dick Tracy movies between 1945 and 1947, Dick Tracy Detective, Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and finally Dick Tracy meets Gruesome.  This last film was the most star-studded, with horror genre star Boris Karloff (of Frankenstein fame) playing the role of Gruesome against Ralph Byrd’s Dick Tracy.  Karloff was so well-known in 1947 that his villain role was promoted more than that of the hero.

In this Dick Tracy classic which you can watch below, the stern-faced Gruesome is a cold-hearted ex-con who stumbles upon a poison gas designed to freeze individuals in place.  Gruesome is initially exposed to the gas and thought dead, leading to a classic Karloff moment when Gruesome awakens like a zombie in the city morgue, much to the surprise of Pat Patton.  Gruesome and an accomplice use the gas in a daring daylight bank robbery, which goes off perfectly except for witness Tess Trueheart who hid in a sealed phone booth.

Tracy and Pat Patton investigate the heist and gas, relating it to the disappearance of a scientist named Dr. A. Tomic.  These names are very Gouldian, with A. Tomic’s associate Dr. I.M. Learned either helping or hindering the investigation.  The movie toys with several horror themes during their detective work, an example being Pat Patton’s nervous search of a taxidermist shop.  Yet, the movie pokes fun at itself and the horror genre with Tracy commenting that this Gruesome fellow feels like a character out of a Boris Karloff film.

While Tracy and Patton’s investigation closes in on the bank robbers, Gruesome plays his role with cold malevolence as he silences those who might lead Tracy to him.  Of course Tracy eventually does still track Gruesome down and they face off in a well done battle complete with a conveyor belt feeding a red-hot furnace.  I’ll not reveal if Karloff’s villain ends up in flames like so many of his other monstrous roles. For now, we’ve only gotten our first peek at Curtis’s Gruesome and it will be interesting to see what traits of the character will remain, if any at all!


Gould Hometown Celebrates Dick Tracy Birthday

Mural in Pawnee, Oklahoma by Ed Melberg in 1990.

Mural in Pawnee, Oklahoma by Ed Melberg in 1990.

Chester Gould’s hometown of Pawnee, Oklahoma celebrates Dick Tracy’s birthday each year and will do so again this coming Saturday in what is now an annual historical society event.  Chester was born in Pawnee on Nov 20th, 1900 and although he moved to Chicago in 1921 and came to live in Woodstock, he always remembered his roots, calling out former Pawnee classmates by naming stores and such after them during a case.

World Scene Writer Jimmie Tramel has written a nice article for the Tulsa World on the Pawnee celebration with quotes from Chester and his brother Ray from early 30’s and 40’s interviews.  Here’s the link if you are interested.