Film & Water #60 – Dick Tracy


Episode 60: DICK TRACY

Rob welcomes our pal and superb illustrator Xum Yukinori to discuss Warren Beatty's DICK TRACY, co-starring Al Pacino, Madonna, Dustin Hoffman, R.G. Armstrong, Glenn Headley, Dick Van Dyke, and more!

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33 responses to “Film & Water #60 – Dick Tracy

      1. What do you expect? It was made solely for the purpose of allowing Beatty to continue to hold the rights to the character.

        That said, I kind of respect that he just did this one time little thing that let him do that rather than force a full on crap film into theaters for no reason other than rights retention (I’m looking at you Fox Studios, LET MY FANTASTIC FOUR GO!)

  1. I just watched this film, recently, and it’s even better than I remembered. I was a bit luke-warm, when it was in the theater; but, it’s grown on me, over time. Beatty is really, really good and the rest of the cast are great. The makeup is a bit jarring, at first; but, Beatty did want to capture the look of the criminals. The weak link, for me, is still Madonna, even singing. She doesn’t really handle torch songs well. Too bad they didn’t have Pat Benatar sing (she had the vocal chops and did an album of the stuff) or The Office’s Melora Hardin, who played a nightclub singer (and sang) in The Rocketeer (she’s got better legs, too). I love Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles.

    I go back to Archie’s TV Funnies, with Dick Tracy. The local paper didn’t carry the strip; but, his animated adventures appeared on the Archie show. I have yet to see the other Dick Tracy animated series, though I’ve heard it is good. I have seen the forst Republic serial, which is excellent. Lots of great stunts and a pretty darn good mystery. Footage of the villain’s flying wing and a boat stunt were recycled for Fighting Devil Dogs (and the same henchman) and the boat stunt was recreated for Indiana Jones and the last Crusade. Ralph Byrd made an excellent Dick Tracy and was also the star of Columbia’s Vigilante serial, based on the DC hero.

      1. No, that is the 1961 series, with animation from UPA, who also produced Mr Magoo. There’s even a crossover, in a Magoo episode. That’s the one available on DVD.

        The Archie one was a cartoon where the Archie gang work at a local tv station, where cartoons, based on comic strips were shown. Dick Tracy is the one I most remember, with a video version of the wrist-radio, and these flying cylinder craft, with what looked like crutches. The series also had cartoons for the Captain and the Kids, Nancy & Sluggo, Smokey Stover and Broom Hilda. it was done by Filmation (who did all of the Archie cartoons, starting in the 60s), and was typical of their look. I don’t really recall much else about it. There is a dvd with a couple of shows (and an episode of US of Archie), with the cartoons included.

        1. Thanks Jeff! I’ve seen quite a few of the UPA one. It’s cute (although highly of its era), but since there was next to nothing done by Tracy other than calling for the star of the cartoon of the day I wondered why they didn’t call it something else. The Archie one sounds like tons of fun. I love the old Archies, Archie’s Fun House and even U.S. of Archie, so this other one has gotta be at least on par. I remember renting a VHS WAAAAAAAAAY back in the mid-80’s that had Broom Hilda and Little Lulu shorts on it, as well as others. Wonder if those were related at all…

          1. Aside from the, er, let’s say less enlightened view of non-Caucasians, like Clinton I always wondered why the show just had Dick Tracy sitting on his ass asking other people to do his work for him.

            Although how cool would it have been if he had called in Batman?

  2. Great discussion! I have a weird relationship with Dick Tracy. I was somehow familiar with the comic strip without ever reading it much, but I got caught up in the hype leading up to the movie’s release. Disney was DEFINITELY following the WB/Batman model in not only production, but promotion. I remember acutally buying a Dick Tracy branded black fedora, thinking I couldn’t pull off the yellow one. Turns out, I couldn’t pull of either, and rarely wore it…it was a bit too small anyway.

    When the movie came to my town, all of my usual movie-going buddies were busy, so I went by myself. That was one of the first and only times I did this, and I think it’s colored the movie for me a bit since. I liked it, but it didn’t hit me like it may have if I had some pals to jaw about with it afterwards.

    I’m with you Rob, there are truly brilliant moments in this film that stay lodged in my brain. As soon as I saw the movie, I wanted a Batman film just like it, even though I was in love with Burton’s 89 film at that point. Imagine a Batman film like this with a Dick Sprang-inspired art style!

    Beatty’s approach can now be seen as the anti-Nolan take. I’ve heard of some folks complaining about the 4-color look, but how could you make those characters work if you dropped them in a true 1930s setting? You’d have to tone down the broadness, and why adapt it then?

    Madonna is the sticking point. Let’s face it, she pretty much slept her way onto this movie. She seemed hell-bent on having a movie career back then. I don’t hate Madonna, but I can’t say I was ever a big fan, and she brings the movie to a screeching halt every time she’s on screen.

    As for who could have played Dick Tracy…physically, I’d have picked Charlie Sheen. That was back before we knew just how bad this bad boy was, and he’s got the closest thing to a Tracy profile and some actual acting chops I can think of. I liked Beatty fine, and I did see that special Xum posted above! It was one of those weird “Am I really watching this” type of moments when it came on.

    Oh and Playmates made those awful Dick Tracy action figures. They stuck to close to their TMNT model for that. The Blank was another figure that was rare because it was held back due to it spoiling the end of the movie. By the time Playmates released it, all hype for the film had died down, and the figures were closed out at clearance stores.

    Again, great show! Always a pleasure to hear Xum!


    1. For my money, Madonna had two good movie appearances: Vision Quest and A League of Their Own. In Vision Quest, she appears as the singer of a bar band and performs one of her songs . Big stretch there. The other has the closest she ever came to a good performance, greatly helped by being with Rosie O’Donnell, in most of her scenes, and Penny Marshall bringing the best out of everyone.

  3. The only midnight premiere screening I’ve ever gone to was Dick Tracy. I have been reading the strip off & on since the 1980s. BTW it’s really been great the last several years under the stewardship of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton. It’s won the Harvey Award for best newspaper strip for the last 3 years running. They have brought back a lot of the classic elements and adversaries. Also, with the demise of the Orphan Annie strip, Annie, Sandy, & Daddy Warbucks make occasional appearances.

    FYI: Charlie Korsmo is now a law professor at Case Western Reserve University Law School in Cleveland. He left acting and later graduated from both MIT and Yale. About 2 years ago he attended a screening of his debut film “Men Don’t Leave” on the CWRU campus & he was kind enough to sign one of my Dick Tracy hardcovers. At the event he spoke about meeting Madonna & Al Pacino and not really being familiar with who they were at the time. He’d be a great guest when F&W covers “What About Bob?” Here’s Junior Tracy today:

    Here’s Chester Gould on To Tell the Truth:

    1. Man, Kitty Carlisle never looked young.


      Number two I could discount from the moment he spoke. Also, any cartoonist of the era knew what a Big Little Book was. Those were some of the first comic collections and it meant more money for the artist (depending on the contract). I was torn between one and two (I haven’t seen a picture of Gould in a long time), but thought the junkard secret entrance was a car trunk, as later used in Wild Cards book series, for the Great and Powerful Turtle; not to mention, I seem to recall seeing a diagram of that in something. I kept listening for traces of a Chicago accent, then read that Gould grew up in Oklahoma. That’s what happens when you assume.

  4. Enjoyed the discussion. The Dick Tracy comic strips were violent. Maurice Horn’s World Encyclopedia of Comics had a center color feature, with samples of different strips, including Tracy. The strip shown has Tracy chasing a crook across a roof and then as he tries to climb down a movie theater marquee, which is showing “Dead End Kiddies.” The hood is trapped, when the neon tubes break and the hood falls to his death, leaving the word “Dead” still hanging. Part of the violence was due to it being published by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. It was a product of the post-gang world of Prohibition Chicago, which saw some of the worst violence in modern history (not to occur in a war). Chicago has always been riddled with corruption and Dick Tracy represented a fantasy of a straight-shooting cop, who stands up to it, modeled on the (mostly) myth of Elliot Ness and the Untouchables. I’ve seen it cited as an antidote to the Warner Brothers gangster films of the 30s and early 40s and it was a favorite of J. Edgar Hoover.

    I love the idea of George C Scott as Dick Tracy. “No son-of-a-bitch ever helped his police force by dying for it. He did it by getting some other poor dumb s-o-b to die for crime.” and “Pruneface, you magnificent bastard; I read your book!”

    I loved the fact that Dick Tracy embraced color. I am so sick of the subdued hues in current comic book films. When Superman is colored in the tones of the evil twin personna in Superman 3, there is something wrong with your vision. These are virtuous heroes; let them shine a bit. People do wear bright colors in the real world, even in film. You can’t get that hung up on realism when you have a guy wearing bat ears, or a cape, or flying through the air, or talking with green-skinned monsters. Just don’t go nuts with it, unless you can pull it off, like Tracy did. Dick Tracy is a nice middle ground between the 1966 Batman and the Burton and Nolan Batman. It has fun, it’s bright at times, dark at times, is serious when it should be and makes for an entertaining story.

    As an aside, there is a great Spirit strip where the Spirit investigates the murder of a comic strip artist. other rival artists appear, drawn like their characters. There are caricatures of Al Capp (Li’l Abner), Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie) and Chester Gould (Dick Tracy). Of course, Eisner himself appears as Commissioner Dolan , who was always a slightly older and more grizzled version of Eisner. It gets into the rivalry of Capp and Gould, centering it around Capp’s Fearless Fosdick, which was a parody of Dick Tracy, in Li’l Abner. Fosdick gets a cannoball through his chest (in the Abner strip) and is shown thereafter, with a big hole in his chest, with a piece of spine sticking out, at the top of the hole. The Spirit strip has the Gould character lamenting that the Fosdick character ruined his Dick Tracy by lampooning it. Really great story.

  5. FYI Earlier this summer there was a series of strips where Tracy dreamed of teaming up with Fosdick as they faced Evil Eye Fleagle!

    1. A note on the pilot video — that is not the full Dozier-produced episode. There is a teaser at the beginning which shows a few instances of ghe NATO attendees being kidnapped — one involving disguising the geyaway car as an ice cream truck… that plays the music so they would not attract attention…

      There is also some other bits cut out for one reason or another. For example, right when Mr. Memory plugs into his machine to figure out who is going to be assigned to the case, the scene immediately jumps to him exclaimkng, “Dick Tracy”. Before the jump, there was actually a whole scene of Tracy being briefed on the kidnappings and essentially taking the case…

      I wonder if the entire uncut episode is available online somwhere… complete with end credits and Dozier’s “next week” teaser…

  6. Surprised you didn’t mention the Kyle Baker Disney comic series, the first two issues were a prequel story, and the third was an adaptation of the movie. All characters were done in Baker’s style, except for Tracy, who was drawn as Beatty.

  7. One big thing left out was the novelization, by Max Allan Collins, who was writing the comic strip, at the time. The identity of the Blank, at the very end, is kept ambiguous, so as not to spoil the ending of the movie. Problem was, the book was released in advance of the movie, as promotion. It is a great read, until the end. Then, you are stuck with a solved mystery; but, you aren’t let in on the solution. Whoever’s decision that was should have been fired.

  8. One of my favorite more obscure moments in Dick Tracy is the WW2 Armed Forces Radio show “Dick Tracy in B Flat” starring Bing Crosby as Tracy. Talk about an all-star cast:

    Flattop: Bob Hope
    Shaky: Frank Sinatra
    Tess Trueheart: Dinah Shore
    Snowflake Falls: Judy Garland
    The Summer Sisters: Andrews Sisters
    Vitamin Flintheart: Frank Morgan
    Gravel Gertie: Cass Daley
    The Mole: Jimmy Durante

  9. Because someone kindly asked me on Facebook where to find the blog posts I had mentioned on the podcast…

    The time I was attacked outside of a San Francisco nightclub:

    The time when I was shot in the back by a Hong Kong gunman

    Part I:

    Part II:

    And the time I was nearly seduced by an evil spirit posing as my first love:

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