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.

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!


Dick Tracy’s Brother – Gordon Tracy


Gordon and Dick (Richard Beach and Ralph Byrd)

In the November 10th Sunday strip, Christmas Early interviewed Dick Tracy for a television broadcast and asked a long overdue question, does Dick Tracy have a family.  Chester Gould never gave us much back ground on Detective Tracy, and we got the sense Dick was an only child and had outlived his parents.  But Gould commonly excluded non-essential family members from his tales.  Take Tess’s mother, Mrs. Trueheart took part in the first stories with the murder of her husband Emil, and then she vanished for decades, only appearing briefly during Tess and Dick’s wedding.

So it is fun to see Dick answer the questions about his family, revealing that his parents were Chester and Edna Tracy, honoring his creator and his wife Edna.  Tracy uses the word “were”, implying his parents have passed away.  We also learn of a sister, Jean, honoring Chester’s daughter Jean Gould O’Connell, an author in her own right.  Jean says in her biography of her father that she thinks of Tracy as her brother and now Mike Curtis has made the feeling mutual!

The final family member, Gordon Tracy is said to have been lost long ago in a car crash after a criminal named “The Lame One”.  Here Mike has written the character of Gordon Tracy, found in the first Dick Tracy Serial into the strip that came out in 1937. For old cinefiles like myself, this is awesome.

GordonTracyFor those who don’t want to watch 15 serial episodes to find out the significance, Gordon Tracy was indeed Dick’s brother and an attorney that assisted the FBI.  Unfortunately, Gordon was ran off the road by the Lame One’s men, who took him to their hideout.  There the vile Dr. Moloch performed an experimental surgery to remove Gordon’s sense of right and wrong.  Essentially Gordon was medical brainwashed, becoming the Lame One’s right hand field agent.  Oddly the surgery also changed his appearance so Dick would not recognize his brother.  To accentuate the transformation, two different actors portrayed Gordon, Richard Beach before the surgery and Carleton Young after.


Dick tries to reason with Gordon

In most of the serial chapters, Gordon led the Lame One’s men in their never-ending plots and it was not until the final chapter that Dick learned who his brother was.  The two battled with Dick trying to reason with his brother but to seeming no avail.  Finally Gordon and the Lame One escaped in a vehicle and during a high-speed chase.  When Gordon saw Gwen and Junior on the road in his path, he finally broke his conditioning and yanked the vehicle off the road.  The crash would kill both him and the Lame One but not before he was able to talk to his brother one last time.

Serials, other films and books are non-canon of course, but much like Cueball from last year, it is fun to see the current team tie our comic strip hero back to some of these old adventures.