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.
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.