Review of Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy (1937)
Tracy victim of "Revision-Face!"
26 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
ONCE UPON A TIME, in 1931 to be exact, newspaper cartoonist, Chester Gould of the Chicago Tribune, presented his editor with a new concept for a comic strip. Rendered in a sort of early mechanical drawing style, populated with characters having names matching their physical characteristics and laden with an ever present, underlying supply of humor;it would be about a young man's career as a Detective on the Chicago Poice Department.

THE TITLE THAT the young Mr. Gould had conjured up was "PLAINCLOTHES TRACY". The editor gave the subject a little thought and suggested that Gould ought to reconsider and change the first name to "Dick"; which was the nickname, even then, already well known for a Detective. With the surname of Tracy being suggestive of tracing a wanted subject, the two would be a perfect match.

SO, THE COMIC strip was launched and DICK TRACY became an almost overnight success; soon being syndicated and appearing in hundreds of newspapers. With such success, it should be no surprise that Hollywood would soon be calling. It did and within the span of 6 short years, DICK TRACY was on the silver screen; now in the format of a 15 chapter Movie Serial, Cliff Hangere type.

WE HAVE VIEWED the serial several times; some years ago. In fact, we do have video copies of all four of the Republic DICK TRACY Chapterplays. Today, Turner Classic Movies began a weekly presentation of the first one with the showing of Chapters 1-3. After the programing was over, many of our impressions and opinions surfaced once again.

FIRST OF ALL, the casting of Ralph Byrd in the title role was a case of near perfection. Talented, athletic and possessing a very likable screen persona; Mr. Byrd was an immediate hit with the movie going public. What's more, he even bore a sort of real world resemblance to the Tracy of the print medium.

THE SERIAL DID a fine job of bringing a great amount of action (the life blood of the movie serial); while at the same time taking the story to a great variety of locales. There appears to be as much time spent outdoors, as there is in studio sound-stages; which is always a plus in giving a picture a good, polished and luxurious appearance about it.

THE CREATION OF a dark, menacing and sinister world is accomplished with the highest degree of success. The characterization of so many of the denizens who inhabit the shadowy underworld is a definite plus and serves to evoke the kind of mysterious horror as did so many of those great covers from so many pulp crime-mystery magazines of the 1920's-'40's.

THE ONE ELEMENT that would become a hallmark for the Republic Serial, the greatest of special effects from Howard Lydecker (later joined by his brother, Theodore Lydecker) was present here. Mysterious rays, great explosions,realistic miniatures and a futuristic aeroplane; all add up to a fantastic, though believable world.

ADDED TO ALL of that is the old Republic assembly line's creative use of stock footage, scenes from other productions and real life newsreel footage. Everything is blended almost flawlessly.

ON THE DOWN side of things, unlike most of their future serials, there is no original musical score, but rather liberal doses of classical selections; including excerpts from Rossini's WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE and Lizst's LES PRELUDES.

ALSO ON THE negative side of the ledger is Republic's habit of taking an existing feature (The Lone Ranger, Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher and especially Captain America) and radically changing it for the screen. In DICK TRACY and its 3 sequels, they make Tracy an F.B.I. Agent, exclude regular partner Pat Patton and make no mention of female lead and love interest in the comic pages, Tess Trueheart; who is Tracy's Fiancé!

IN PLACE OF a regular detective partner, we are given a couple of hereto-for unknown commodities; including a comic relief buffoon portrayed by Smiley Burnette and a mysteriously vague version of Junior.
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