With 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!