Friday, August 9, 2019
Dick Tracy (1945)
I’m note sure why (given that I’m such a keen B-movie fan) but I approached this film with very low expectations. That turned out to be a mistake.
In the serials Dick Tracy is a G-Man but in the movies (as in the comic strip) he’s a cop, with the Homicide Squad.
The trail leads Tracy to a creepy mortician named Deathridge, a night-club owner named Steve Owen and an astrologer and occultist named Professor Linwood J. Starling. They’re certainly involved, but it’s not clear how. Dick Tracy’s girlfriend got a look at the killer so they know how he got his name - he has a very large and very ugly scar on his face.
The trick with a movie like this is to retain enough of the comic-strip flavour that it doesn’t become just a generic crime B-movie but not so much that it becomes too silly or implausible. This movie manages that trick remarkably well. It’s generally realistic but it’s a kind of heightened or subtly warped realism. The villain is outrageously villainous but still just about believable. The plot is just slightly outlandish but again it doesn’t stretch credibility to breaking point. Dick Tracy is a square-jawed action hero but we can buy him as a hardboiled cop. This is not quite real life but it’s not quite out-and-out fantasy. The gadgets (like the famous wristwatch radio) have been dropped because they would have given it a slight science fiction feel and in a non-science fiction film they would have undermined believability too much.
Morgan Conway doesn’t look quite right as Dick Tracy but his performance more than makes up for this. He captures the feel of the character perfectly. Anne Jeffreys is excellent as Tracy’s likeable but jealous girlfriend Tess Trueheart. Mickey Kuhn manages to be completely non-irritating as Junior. Even when he gets himself involved n the case we don’t mind since this is a comic-strip movie. Mike Mazurki is wonderfully sinister and Trevor Bardette is both fun and slightly bizarre as Professor Starling. Jane Greer is wasted as Owen’s daughter Judith, a sadly underwritten part.
If you’re expecting anything remotely resembling the comic-strip and comic-book movies and TV series of later eras you might be disappointed. There is not a trace of high camp. There is one brief hint of the paranormal but it can be explained away quite rationally. There are no gadgets. It’s basically the standard crime B-movie formula with a few key differences but those differences give it a unique flavour. It’s also insanely entertaining. Highly recommended.
Since I own a couple of the other RKO Dick Tracy movies you can expect further Dick Tracy reviews from me.