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Dick Tracy (1945)

by on 2012/04/09

“If you examined the moon, it would be for fingerprints.”

* * *

Straight-arrow, straight-edged, upright and uptight, chase-obsessed and just a tad moralizing – that’s Dick Tracy. That’s also Dick Tracy, the 1945 film adaptation of the classic detective comic strip by cartoonist Chester Gould.

Let’s cut to the chase, law-loving citizens. If you had to define prig, you need look no further than Dick Tracy as portrayed by Morgan Conway. Sure, he’s ok to look at and wears a fedora well, but you might as well thumb through an old Sears and Roebuck catalogue looking for dapper-looking men glancing suavely at their watches.

These Sears models would be entirely more entertaining than the otherwise attractive Conway.

That’s not to say this isn’t a mildly entertaining movie. Besides, the real interest in the Dick Tracy comic strips were always the weird and disfigured villains – and Dick Tracy’s got one in Alexis “Splitface” Banning (Mike Mazurki).

Like any good Dick Tracy villain, Splitface wears his evil right on his face with a giant, disfiguring slash in the middle of his broad shovel of a boxer’s mug. This Dick Tracy story pulls no ugly punches either, in the opening sequence we are told that the nice older lady we see on her way home one evening had her throat slit.

Then it happens again. Each victim seems to be chosen at random. Each is a different age, sex, from a different area of town. Each one was done in using a surgical knife. Creepy.

Then there are occult overtones – Prof. Linwood J. Starling (Trevor Bardette) is dabbling in the dark arts. Then we’ve got a gambling night club owner, Steve Owen (Morgan Wallace) who seems a bit shifty too. Then there’s blackmail, extortion and kidnapping. Even the ransom notes have spelling errors. Gasp.

Dark, dark stuff. But it never really makes all the way to scary, thanks to the dispassionate Tracy. His smirk tells us that the scalpel slasher is no real reason to get all goofy.

As the stakes rise, Dick Tracy signals he is stumped by slightly furrowing his attractive brow. More dynamic, plucky and emotive is his Tess Trueheart (Anne Jeffreys). Her only real ambition, it seems, is to get one uninterrupted night on the town with bland, bland boyfriend. Go figure, some ladies like them bland and career-obsessed, I reckon.

There’s also the fun, scrappy Junior (Mickey Kuhn) on the case. Where would Dick Tracy be without Tess and Junior? Casually checking the time and hailing a cab, I guess.

Overall, despite the blandest bland of the leading man, there are moments of interest in this old-timey detective story with its shadowy film noir touches and scalpel murders. It was good enough for a Saturday morning over cereal with my darling teenager Miss_Tree.

But if you are looking for more effective Dick Tracy adaption, check out Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome.

* * *

61 minutes

Unrated but safe for precocious teenagers and other mild-mannered citizens

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