Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dick Tracy

Directed by Warren Beatty.
1990. Rated PG, 105 minutes.
Warren Beatty
Al Pacino
Charlie Korsmo
Glenne Headly
William Forsythe
Dustin Hoffman
Dick Van Dyke
James Caan

When one of the local gangsters turns up missing, super-sleuth Dick Tracy (Beatty) is on the case. Along the way, he picks up an orphan who calls himself Kid (Korsmo) and tries to maintain his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Headly). Of course the job, the kid and the bad guy’s girlfriend make that really tough.

Unless you’re one of these youngsters who’ve never opened up a real physical newspaper instead of its website, or just living under a rock then the name Dick Tracy should automatically conjure thoughts of the long-time comic strip of the same name. During the week, these strips were in black and white. On Sundays they were drawn in glorious color. It is to the Sunday version of the strip that the movie remains most true. The colors are ultra-bright and nearly every frame looks like it’s been lifted straight from the pages of the nation’s dailies. To this effect, the makeup team shines. Each character is marvelously rendered, many of them with wildly exaggerated appearances. It’s strict adherence to the source material’s look makes this a fairly clear precursor for Sin City. It’s easy to see why this movie won the Oscar for Best Makeup.

The film also has something the comic strip lacked: a serious and dark sense of humor. It keeps its tongue planted firmly in its cheek as it uses a film noir style of dialogue with all sorts of double entendres. This is most notable during Tracy’s scenes with the bad guy’s gal, Breathless Mahoney played by Beatty’s then real life girlfriend, pop superstar Madonna. She is both a strength and a weakness. Shes’s a strength because she absolutely looks the part. This was made in the days when she had just started toning up and in my opinion, the best she’s ever looked. In the days since, she’s trained the curves completely from her frame, but I digress. She also feels the part. Who better to play a singer/sexpot with a knack for trouble than Madonna?

However, the music icon is a weakness because of her acting. Her role requires her to slink around the screen fluidly and effortlessly seduce the men in her path. Considering that’s how she made her living, it is shocking how stiffly she moves, how easily recognizable the choreography of everything she does and says. It’s doubly distracting simply because of who’s playing the part.

Fortunately, the rest of the performances are just plain fun. As our main villain, Big Boy Caprice, Al Pacino seems to be having a blast and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work, here. As Tess, Headly grounds the movie emotionally and is perfect. Even Korsmo as Kid is excellent. In just a few brief scenes, Dustin Hoffman steals the show as Mumbles, one of Big Boy’s flunkies. If there is one thing this movie needs more of, it’s Mumbles. Oh, keep an eye out or you’ll miss Kathy Bates and Colm Meaney in bit roles.

When “DT” was released, movies based on comics weren’t the cash cows they are now. In fact, they were difficult to get made because the vast majority were unsuccessful. There was Tim Burton’s Batman the year before and the Superman franchise which started a decade before the Caped Crusader, but that was pretty much it. All the rest were either low-budget, stupid, cheesy or all of the above. Therefore, it was pretty easily one of the better movies the genre had ever produced. I think it’s severely underrated and still might be.


  1. I saw this film as a kid when it came out in theaters. Madonna was the weak link and yes, I totally agree with you that the film needed more Mumbles.

    1. Missed it when I was a kid, but I did see it for the first time a few years and loved it. Too bad about Madonna. It was a chance for her to really knock it out the park since the role was tailor-made for her, but she utterly failed. Dragged the whole movie down a bit.

  2. Pity about Madonna, but this sounds like an interesting flick. Plus i'm sure I've heard my dad talk about dick tracy a bunch of times and he has a pretty good taste in film!

    Nice review, has me interested!

    1. It is very interesting. I really have fun watching this.

  3. I'm proud to say that I saw this in the theater...but feel the opposite about buying the soundtrack days later. I totally had a thing for Madonna, um, yeah.

    I don't really recall anything other than the colors and Beatty's sly level of confidence (but that's kind of his thing, I guess) as the lead. And wasn't there a pretty awful interrogation scene with Mumbles? I remember thinking it was hysterical. Oh, and something with oysters...

    Sorry, I should probably just actually think these thoughts...instead of pissing all over your blog with them. My bad.

    1. Oh, no, feel free. I try real hard, but your comments up the readability factor by about 10.