Dick Tracy

Oh hey, look guys, it’s summertime! And you know what that means: 1) time to sit back and unwind 2) that hardcore dance has gotten a little bit out of control, and 3) there will be a bunch of big special effects type movies coming out. As soon as the sunny days start I get excited for all the greatness and/or crap that’s coming out every Friday, I get nostalgic for the joy I’ve had in movie theaters throughout my life, or even that certain feeling I get from sitting down and waiting for some big expensive heavily advertised movie that will turn out to not be artistically worthy of its Slurpee tie-in. I still cherish the experience.

And in between watching the new movies I usually do some kind of summer movie retrospective. I’m sort of running out of good anniversaries to do, though, so this year I decided to try a different approach. This will be a series of films that have come out in the past couple decades of summers but didn’t exactly catch on culturally. Some of them will be financial flops or disappointments, others made decent money but were undeniably rejected by audiences. We’ll look at some misunderstood gems, some horrible pieces of garbage, and various stages in between.

I’m calling them SUMMER FLINGS – things the world flirted with briefly on the screen, then left in the past. Or movies that were flung out there and nobody caught them. Today’s movie is arguably remembered more than most of the others we’ll be looking at, but it definitely didn’t catch the world on fire the way Disney hoped it would, so I didn’t want to skip it.

P.S. I’m shy about bringing this up, but I’d have a hard time doing a series like this without my benefactors on Patreon, whose generous donations help offset some of the extra days I take off to really dig in and research and what not. So thank you to them and if you enjoy these reviews and can afford it please consider donating (or using any of the other methods of support mentioned on the right side of your monitor/bottom of your phone). Thanks!

* * *

June 15, 1990

When the ’90s began, Tim Burton’s BATMAN seemed like the gold standard for summer movie excitement. In 1989 it had been a phenomenon at the box office, in record stores and at bootleg t-shirt stands, and every studio wanted to find their own Batman.

So the next summer, when Disney released director/star Warren Beatty’s DICK TRACY, it had a simple, iconic poster, a thunderous score by Danny Elfman, and a soundtrack album by an iconic pop star (Madonna’s I’m Breathless). Just as Batman had, the DICK TRACY hype reignited interest in an old comic strip, and reruns of a vintage TV show started playing on UHF channels. At the time, David Ansen wrote in Newsweek that after $10 million of advertising, toy and fast food tie-ins and a round of interviews with the usually-reclusive Beatty, tracking showed that “an astonishing 100 percent of the moviegoing public was aware of the existence of this movie before it opened.”

But awareness didn’t necessarily equate acceptance. Like, maybe they’d go see it, but their opening night keepsakes would still end up hanging unwanted next to D.A.R.E. t-shirts in every Goodwill and Value Village in America.

Oh shit, I almost forgot. Before we go any further, everybody put your shirts on.

Okay, thanks.

Both BATMAN and DICK TRACY have a big artificial looking city, a money shot of the hero jumping through a skylight to save his kidnapped girlfriend, even a similar joke about him asking someone their weight in order to calculate a heroic stunt and then the person lies about their weight. Both were adapted from comics characters of the 1930s (in this case a comic strip character), so they looked nostalgically at the films of that time period for inspiration. While BATMAN took place in some version of the modern world, it was full of old fashioned movie archetypes: fast talking reporters, gangsters in overcoats and fedoras, weaselly-voiced thugs, steamy alleys.

DICK TRACY takes it further, showing a Prohibition Era city with speakeasies, big cars and tommy gun shootouts. The gimmicky villain deformities of Chester Gould’s comic strip (Flat Top, Pruneface, etc.) are created with elaborate Academy Award winning makeup effects by John Caglione Jr. (C.H.U.D., THE DARK KNIGHT) and Doug Drexler (MANHUNTER), and remarkably the sets and costumes are limited to the seven colors available in Sunday newspaper comic strip printing. It can’t be understated what a unique look Beatty, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, APOCALYPSE NOW, TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM) and production designer Richard Sylbert (THE CONNECTION, BREATHLESS, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) came up with. Tracy has his yellow trenchcoat and hat, the streets are often green or red (with light, not blood), the same shades as the cars, the suits, the bricks, the wrenches, the tables.

Any time we see a cityscape it reminds me of MARY POPPINS, a live action movie incorporating what looks like animation background paintings. If there’s another ’90s movie that uses this many gorgeous matte paintings I have no idea what it would be.

And let’s take a moment to praise the bizarre makeup transformations of two great action movie antagonists. William Forsythe was sculpted into Disney’s Flat Top one year before he was the depraved villains of OUT FOR JUSTICE and STONE COLD. And the haunting eyes of ABOVE THE LAW’s Henry Silva are unmistakable even sunken behind the bizarre face of Influence.

It seems to have about as many montages as ROCKY IV, often intercut with Madonna’s musical performances and zipping through a bunch of time as untouchable Tracy (everybody calls him Tracy, never just Dick) does a series of busts or something. It’s a storytelling shortcut – covering a bunch of ground with a quick series of shots, kinda like telling a story in four panels a day – but it also gives the movie an energetic pace. Hats off to Richard Marks, who only did SERPICO, THE GODFATHER PART II and APOCALYPSE NOW to pad his resume for a gig like this. In my opinion.

The plot (screenplay by TOP GUN/TURNER & HOOCH/ANACONDA/THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS writers Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.) involves mob boss Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino, SCARFACE) making a move to take over organized crime in the city by turning his mentor Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino, KNOCK OFF) into a concrete block and taking over his speakeasy, Club Ritz. Tracy is trying to bring down Big Boy’s empire, and a mysterious faceless gangster (referred to as “No Face” in the movie but also called “The Blank”) is up to something in the shadows.

Beatty’s suave heroism conveys period reverence for whichever cop made the most headlines – a paradigm from before DIRTY HARRY. But in truth his law enforcement seems a little petty, being based mostly on storming into clubs hoping to find gambling. Ruining everybody’s night trying to catch somebody on a technicality. It’s kinda like Steven Seagal: Lawman, trolling around trying to catch somebody with a little pot on them and fuck up their life. Except we’ve seen Big Boy murder and kidnap so we know this is for a good cause.

Honestly more compelling than the crimebusting is Tracy’s relationship with his long-suffering girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenn Headly, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY), while they try to take care of a little boy named The Kid (Charlie Korsmo, HOOK) who doesn’t want to go to an orphanage after Tracy rescues him from an abusive father. Tracy is real bad about attending to his love life in between chasing after bank robbers and secret warehouse rendezvous. When he tries to turn Club Ritz singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) into an informant she comes on to him. Then every time he sees her he stands there with a look kinda like The Dude in THE BIG LEBOWSKI when Bunny offers him a blowjob.

Along with a surface style to rival what any young hotshot could’ve accomplished, Beatty brought his life experience to the character. BATMAN was only Burton’s third feature. He was 31 when it came out, and he imbued its groundbreaking style a young person’s alienated artist angst. But Beatty made DICK TRACY at 53, after more than three decades in Hollywood, having been nominated for Oscars for acting and writing, and winning one for directing REDS (his only movie of the ’80s besides ISHTAR). His legendarily plentiful romantic relationships had been chronicled in gossip and song, but it wasn’t until two years after DICK TRACY that he married Annette Bening and started having kids. So this cartoony movie is very much about where he actually was in life: widely glorified for an extraordinary career (except ISHTAR/being framed by Big Boy), seeing the appeal of slowing down in the name of commitment and fatherhood, but too chicken shit to pull the trigger.

He declares his loyalty to Tess and he never fucks Breathless, despite many offers. But his inattentiveness to his woman combined with constant visible temptation is frustrating in a very authentic way. In the middle of this larger-even-than-your-average-larger-than-life world, Beatty still plays the emotions very real. That grounded, grown up humanity might’ve hurt the movie’s popularity with the young demographic it was aimed at, but it’s definitely contributed to me watching it several times over the years and enjoying it more and more.

I completely forgot that Pacino got a supporting actor Oscar nomination, but I get it. He’s a funny villain, a guy who’s basically Al Capone but trying to be a sophisticate. That he murders a guy to steal his club, then mostly focuses on improving the musical performances, gives him an endearing goofball quality. He frequently misquotes Plato or Nietschze and exhaustedly lectures his henchmen about their work ethic after they fail to kill Dick Tracy.

Breathless is mostly a standard femme fatale, and she’s pretty much powerless in the face of Tracy’s older man charms. But I find something appealing about her unstated need for more control as an artist and as a woman. Big Boy explicitly refers to her as his property, in addition to rehearsing the performers past 2 am. His strive for excellence is kinda admirable, but these are professionals, they know what the fuck they’re doing, who is he to come in here and pretend to be fuckin Phil Spector?

(I honestly wrote that without even considering that Pacino later played Phil Spector.)

So the way Breathless tries to change her situation (SPOILER: she’s The Blank) makes her pretty sympathetic. And the bittersweet ending – Tracy compliments her for almost pulling it off, and she kisses him before dying – is more emotionally complex than the movie’s color palette would imply. When he leaves into the arms of Tess she seems to have less than the full devotion she deserves, allowing the hero to retain the very human weaknesses of the artist.

* * *

Though DICK TRACY opened well (against GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH), Disney specifically wanted BATMAN numbers, and it made less than half as much. It didn’t even end up in the top 10 grossing movies of its year. The summer was dominated by GHOST, TOTAL RECALL, BACK TO THE FUTURE III, DIE HARD 2 and PRESUMED INNOCENT. Other interesting movies playing at that time included THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, DARKMAN and THE WITCHES.

Now that I’ve spent this entire review talking about DICK TRACY as a response to BATMAN, it’s time to confess that Beatty had bought the rights in 1985 and had been trying to play the character since 1975 (the year of SHAMPOO). According to that Newsweek article Clint Eastwood wanted the role too, and the project went through various directors including Floyd Mutrux (ALOHA, BOBBIE AND ROSE), Martin Scorsese, John Landis and Richard Benjamin. Walter Hill came closest to getting it made, but “wanted to go a realistic, gritty route,” which clashed with Beatty’s vision, as we can see here. Would’ve been interesting to see what that would’ve been, though.

I suspect it incubated exactly long enough to make a good movie, but too long to make a huge hit. I’ve frequently written about how these movies based on pulp, comic strip and radio show characters of the ’30s and ’40s – THE SHADOW, THE PHANTOM, THE SPIRIT, GREEN HORNET, THE LONE RANGER – are almost never successful at the box office. Chronologically and in spirit I guess this is closer to SUPERMAN, POPEYE, ANNIE and BRENDA STARR, most of which did well. But as we get further away from those decades we have fewer and fewer moviegoers who were raised on the entertainment of that era, and less nostalgia for it.

Of course, Lucas and Spielberg had had great success selling youngsters on non-specific nostalgia, as had Disney with WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. DICK TRACY was even paired with a new Roger Rabbit cartoon (a throwback to ’40s cartoon shorts spun off from a throwback to ’40s detective fiction). But Beatty was a guy who grew up on the Dick Tracy comics talking to people who grew up on The Far Side. Maybe it was too tough of a sell.

Or could it be that the action figures were the culprit? I mean, look at this shit. What the hell were they trying to do to kids giving them these hideous fucking things? A brilliant team of artists ingeniously turned Chester Gould’s drawings into costumes and makeup, then this toy company says “I like it, but can we squoosh them into the shape of Ninja Turtles?”

I mean, whatever happened to respect? Whatever happened to dignity? Whatever happened to vaguely accurate anatomical proportions?

Here’s something you may not be aware of: Ice-T did an official tie-in song for this movie. I don’t think anybody knows about it but somehow I did at the time and bought a 12″ of it.

This reminds me: decades later in the timeline of this movie, all rappers would own a copy of BIG BOY CAPRICE in their DVD collections.

But in this timeline, I’m not sure how many own DICK TRACY. It’s not a character too many people give a shit about. Even me – I’m more a fan of Beatty using it as a vehicle for personal expression. Maybe the movie’s biggest legacy is as an obvious inspiration for the R-rated SIN CITY movies. But comparing them is a good way to illustrate the superiority of sets and matte paintings over low budget green screen techniques.

It was still profitable enough that a sequel was considered, but prevented by a legal fight over the rights. That was finally cleared up in 2013, and as recently as 2016 Beatty claimed to be serious about doing a sequel. I suspect the closest we’ll ever get is the novels by Max Allan Collins, who wrote the comic strip for many years and got to do the novelization and two (way out of print) sequel books.

Oh yeah – or the special he made 18 years later where Leonard Maltin interviews him in character as Dick Tracy. Why not?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 at 10:59 am and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

53 Responses to “Dick Tracy”

  1. Oh man the SHIRTS. I have a picture somewhere of myself at like 11 years old and my three younger brothers all wearing different Dick Tracy shirts. What a summer!

  2. I totally had the shirts! Wanted to get the jump to be the next Batman. That did not succeed.

    This is an awesome series idea, Vern, very excited for it!

  3. I think we’ve discussed this before, but the “T” in Ice-T stands for “Tracy,” his actual first name, so maybe he did the song out of reverence for the only other dude who made that sound like a tough name.

  4. Funny that you would mention SIN CITY, since Beatty expressed his plans for making a sequel to this movie first back in 2005, citing how impressed he was with Rodriguez’s movie and talking about how he wanted to shoot it the same way.

    I remember the hype for that movie. I was 8 years old, still reading the weekly Mickey Mouse comic magazine and damn, they were pimping Dick hard, although it wasn’t really a kids movie. When I saw it home video, I didn’t really do much for me, but with age, I’ve learned to enjoy its qualities more. Unfortunately its flaws are also more apparent. History says that the director’s cut of it was 2 1/2 hours long, but back in 1990, it was impossible to put a tentpole movie with such a runtime, even if it had a family rating, into multiplexes and Beatty had to trim it down. How cool would it be, if the deleted footage still exists!?

  5. A beautiful looking movie from a beautiful time, now long since past.

    I often wondered why a sequel never materialised, but now all the rights stuff is cleared up, I hope Beatty gets to give the character an elegiac send off.

    I’m ready for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD DICKS.

  6. Always had a soft spot for this one but I think I have a thing for style-over-substance films and movies that glamorize the fake version of this time period. Kinda feel bad of the movie because even I find it hard to talk about on it’s own merits without having to constantly bring up BATMAN ’89. Not sure why DICK TRACY is treated as an oddity and BATMAN a classic as I’d argue that TRACY holds up a bit better. I haven’t pulled an Internet and turned my back on BATMAN though, re-watched a bit back and still feel it holds up as an entertaining movie. I do miss when big movies went all out on the visual spectacle though so maybe I’m just nostalgic for that and being too forgiving on both movie’s flaws.

    CJ: According thedigitalbits.com, back when the original DVD first came out, Disney was planning on making a special edition set as part of their VISTA Series and planned a bunch of special features (including recompiling the original two and half hour director’s cut) but Beatty wouldn’t commit or fully commit or kept pushing it off or something so they dumped those plans and just put out a movie-only disc. With how Disney operates and how the home video market is now, unless a sequel was made (and even then only if a big deal was being made out of it) I do not see us getting anymore chances of seeing that Director’s Cut or even the deleted scenes. It will stay on the shelf with the mythical three hour director’s cut of POPEYE that supposedly exists (technically also a Disney production).

    I look forward to this new Summer Series by Vern. I always greatly enjoy his Summer retrospectives and I feel this proposed idea for a series is his most interesting idea for it thus far.

  7. I’m also looking forward to this series. Having read his BATMAN FOREVER review, it’s clear that the font for “Summer Flings” was chosen carefully.

  8. Yeah that BATMAN FOREVER font is blatantly in full effect.

    So I remember having the trading cards for this movie. I appreciated the grotesque looking villains. We even had buttons in my house with Dick Tracy imagery. When the movie actually dropped though I never watched it. So yeah I guess everybody knew about it but obviously that doesn’t mean everyone was interested. When I did eventually watch it on VHS I did end up liking a lot of it. The production design is so superb I thought it even topped BATMAN. More vibrancy and weirdness. Also the cinematography was top notch but yeah the make up/prosthetics work was second to none. Not just on 2 of the greatest villainous personalities Seagal ever faced on screen but I grew up in a home where SCARFACE, SEA OF LOVE and THE GODFATHER were often watched on a loop and I still had no idea Pacino was Big Boy. Not till the credits. Blew my 7 year old brain sky high.

    I watched it again on cable after all these years. Not as amazing as I remember it being when I was a kid but at the same time it also held up extremely well. It’s one of those movies like WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? where you probably had to be there but there is something so immersive and impressive about it because I always remember never seeing ANYTHING that looked like it before it. Even BATMAN which it did ape a lot from.

  9. Love this series and especially your intro to it. These movies spent more time in our lives leading up to the release than the two hours it may have taken to finally watch them. Then to just unceremoniously disappear…

    Do Marvel movies and the like still exist like this? Maybe I don’t notice because I don’t eat fast food or play with toys anymore, but it seems Hollywood has focused more on advertising than zeitgeist if that makes sense.

    It’s also significant that summers in the ’90s weren’t a tentpole movie every week. There were down weeks where original movies tried to fill the gaps, so the event movies stuck around longer. There certainly weren’t tentpole movies year round, so summer was the event.

    Looking forward to the rest of the titles. Perhaps some Wild Wild West, Emmerich Godzilla, perhaps some greater gold in the ’70s and ’80s.

  10. Broddie, movie trading cards! That and novelizations were the way to relive a movie before it came out in vhs back then. What would kids have now, snap chat filters?

  11. I watched this film a bunch of times as a kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever watched it as an adult. As a little one, there was something appealing about the world, the bright colors, and the art deco design. I wish we could still wear those oversized suits that they wore back in the mid-twentieth century. Everything has to be form fitting these today.

    And I do miss the days when directors would take visual cues from comic books. It seems like most directors have given up on making comic book movies look like an actual comic book.

  12. I find it fascinating that this still holds the record for most Oscars won by a comic book adaptation.

    This is the sort of film ripe for rediscovery, like a Criterion release and remaster this. As a film on a visceral level I find it “OK” but it’s an aesthetic triumph in an analog pre-CGI era. Beatty spent a fortune on this, and it looks it.

    Franchise Fred – Its interesting how with every decent spandex movie, the Internet loses its shit then moves along a few months later when the next one drops. LOGAN only came out 2 months ago. Might as well be a year ago.

    RBatty024 – I don’t know, I thought DOCTOR STRANGE cribbed hard from Steve Ditko’s psychedelic drawings (which of course they did because why not?) and James Gunn has done a nice color palette job on his Marvel movies. Even the those recent Zack Snyder movies I’ve had no use for, some people online have praised the visual look.

  13. This, THE SHADOW and THE ROCKETEER make a nice trinity together.

  14. That’s the Infowars font, not Batman.

  15. Nah that was definitely from the Schumacher Batmans which preceeded infowars for quite a few years.

  16. grimgrinningchris

    May 30th, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    It should be pointed out too that I’M BREATHLESS is Madonna’s best album.

    She really is (was) a singles act… and no doubt, there were a gazillion of them and many of them great, but there was a whole lot of horseshoe filler on her albums too.

    I’m Breathless is perfect from beginning to end. And oddly is the album that “Vogue” which has nothing to do with Dick Tracy (other than glamorizing the time period in its lyrics) was on.

  17. grimgrinningchris

    May 30th, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    Also, those ticket shirts were actually used for admission to the night before preview screenings. I would pay good money for one of those in my size.

  18. All right, love the idea for this series. Keep em coming.

    Somehow I’ve never seen Dick Tracy but maybe I’ll finally check it out.

  19. I’ve spent the entire morning trying to figure out why this just doesn’t resonate with a lot of people. Maybe it’s a colourful ray of sunshine in an era of anti-heroes and dark knights? In that sense we’ve come full circle almost, as the bleak-than-bleak superhero shizz are being derided over the more upbeat Marvel films of late. Hell, you could maybe argue that Guardians 2 took colour cues from Dick Tracy??!

    I’m not sure if it’s the fact that it’s old source material that bothers me. King Kong keeps getting redone to great successes. Personally, the whole prohibition era isn’t one I’m hugely familiar with or bothered by. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t 100% get behind films like Lawless or Gangster Squad.

    Perhaps it’s just because Dick Tracy isn’t that so much of a badass like the Shadow??

  20. Beatty could have saved Disney a lot of money and gotten closer to the comic strip look if he had filmed the whole movie with the Introvision front projection effect for an analog Sin City look with actors moving within Matte paintings or miniatures. Look for the ViewMaster-esque scenes in Outland, The Fugitive (train crash) and Army of Darkness. There is company demo on YouTube.

  21. Grimgrinningchris

    May 31st, 2017 at 8:17 am

    There was a Dick Tracy stage/stunt show at Disney Hollywood Studios (the Disney-MGM) for about a year after the movie’S release. I really would like to have seen that.

  22. I guess that’s what evolved into the INDIANA JONES stunt show? I’d have preferred it stayed Dick Tracy themed as well.

  23. Grimgrinningchris

    May 31st, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Naw. The Indiana Jones show was there opening day.

    This was a less ornate stage thing that’s where the Beauty & The Beast show is now. As far as I know the only stunts were choreographed fights and some air cannon bullet hits. Nothing as massive as the Indy show. Still would’ve liked to have seen it.

  24. Grimgrinningchris

    May 31st, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Oh wow. Apparently there was a ride in development too that was scrapped when the movie underperformed.

    This describes it and mentions the stage show too (which I guess they did at Disneyland as well)


  25. Dear Vern, thank you for this amazing review. In case you were wondering if there was a small group of friends who were very much excited for the completely unexpected Maltin interview and who still happily discuss it on a near-monthly basis from their various places in life (and the world) and if one of the members of said group of friends was me the answer would be yes to all of your questions.

    The highlight of the film (in shared the opinion of some of the aforementioned Dick Tracy The Movie Fan Club members) is the amazing use of ambient dialogue and “ADR” that’s constantly running through the scenes. Beatty seemed to have picked up a sharp ear for weird auditory hypernaturalism in his time with Elaine May. When Dick Tracy Jr is deciding on his name there’s this great faint back-and-forth between Seymour Cassel as Sam Ketcham and another character. Sam K says something along the lines of that he wishes that he could pick his own name too and when questioned what he would choose if he had the opportunity he decides on the name Sam.

    Also just between you and me and the two other people I’ve told already I intend on being Dick Tracy for Halloween, though I don’t know if I’m going to go for the prosthetics Beatty eschewed.

    Once my life stops being in a financial hole I will finally begin financially contributing to your ceaseless, inspiring writing. You recently apologized for taking the briefest of vacations and I felt the same guilt I’ve had in the many years gone without contributing to something so enriching.

    Sorry for the “emo” comments, Vern. I hope you (or someone) will write the essay or series nobody’s written about Beatty the comic actor and filmmaker, and the ways in which his arc paralleled and grew from his time in apprenticeship with numerous masters. The Howard Hughes one is really good, if you or anyone else besides the three other attendees from my screening has yet to see it. It has a similar quality of real, earned emotion and ship-in-a-bottle level of craftsmanship with the same sort of zany, quiet, subtle humor offsetting the themes of life’s changes and decisions.

    Also the worst part about those toys was their disgusting soft heads, how they seemed to attract grime like no other object in existence and that you’d lose the hats almost immediately. There is nothing more frustrating than a perennially hatless Tracy. Maybe Beatty was OCDing about babies chewing on action figures or something.

    There are a lot of interesting things I’ve gleamed about the production of this film and Beatty’s intense level of involvement in even the tiniest of details. There’s a great comic book adaptation from the cartoonist Kyle Baker (Why I Hate Saturn, Nat Turner, that Superbaby comic that they banned and the KRS-One comic that I imagine Vern as having carefully stored somewhere along with his official Freddy yo-yo and Bruce Lee Adidas.)

    Keep up the good work Vernon H!

    P.S. I was just as pleasantly surprised by and thrilled for your Josie and the Pussycats and Lawnmower Man series reviews, though I managed to stifle my wordy excitement about those.

  26. I’ve always really loved this movie, one of the weirdest, coolest looking movies to come out of mainstream Hollywood, the fact that something so odd was treated like it was going to be a massive hit is wonderful and it’s a shame it didn’t turn out to be, I mean what’s wrong with people? Who wouldn’t want to see these eye popping visuals on the big screen? But even as a fan of the movie that T-shirt is one of the most presumptuous things I’ve ever seen, they really thought the movie was going to be SO big that people would want a shirt commemorating “I was there first”? Reminds me of them painting Arnold’s face on the space shuttle Colombia to promote LAST ACTION HERO, ah, early 90s Hollywood, you gotta love it.

    Anyway I always mentally associate this movie with the Robert Altman POPEYE because they’re both movies that try to create a living cartoon world pre-CGI, in fact I re-watched POPEYE last December for the first time in 16 years and it was a great trip down memory lane, I love that movie as well.

    Also, I’m pretty sure you can see Madonna’s nipples at one point, how’s that for a Disney movie?

  27. Thanks for this great new review series, Vern.

    I’m still blown away by the level of quality DICK TRACY features in every department. You need a DOP? Vittoria Storaro. Some songs? Stephen Sondheim. Someone for small role and a duet with Madonna? Mandy Patinkin. An unrecognizable actor for a cameo? Dustin Hoffman.

    You rarely see so much talent and style in one movie.

  28. grimgrinningchris

    June 2nd, 2017 at 5:08 am

    Griff… It wasn’t just to commemorate that “I was there first”. Those shirts were the literal admission tickets to the Thursday midnight screenings and issued in lieu of regular tickets. They were more a premium for people who bought for the preview night (which I think was actually a really cool promotion) and not just merchandise.

  29. Great review, looking forward to the rest of this series. I was way too young to appreciate Dick Tracy at the time, and I even saw it again a few years ago when I had a basic grasp of filmatism and an appreciation of mega-acting…and I still found it kinda dull. It seems like a movie that should be right up my alley so another rewatch might be in order.

    Re: the good ole days of movie tie-ins, I am glad that the one area that still seems to be going strong is movie cereals. Sure, most of them are of the Frozen/Moana variety, but it still boggles my mind they made a Batman v. Superman cereal, since I can’t see any children actually enjoying the non-action parts of that movie.

  30. I don’t think it’s necessarily a nostalgia thing…Batman was too in a lot of ways. I was a teen when this came out and I LOVED it. Guys with awesome bright hats and coats, tommy guns, neon all over, colors, a lot of weird looking bad guys get shot. There’s nothing to dislike in this movie.

  31. Years ago I realized the best modern version of DICK TRACY, or at least Dick and Tess Truehart’s relationship was Jackie Chan’s POLICE STORY trilogy.

  32. And now this sad news:

  33. What is the sad news? The link didn’t work.

  34. Oh, Glenne Headley passed away. That’s too bad. She was always a welcome addition to any movie.

  35. grimgrinningchris

    June 10th, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Yes. I tried to explain to my other 13-14 year old friends why I had such a crush on her from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Dick Tracy at the time and none of them got it. But yeah, she was very unique. I liked her in the unfortunate Breakfast Of Champions adaptation with Bruce too… Oh and in a smaller part in 2 Days In The Valley (the only other shining light besides Spader and our sweet sweet Charlize in that otherwise ridiculous Tarantino rip).


  36. I’ll be honest, I liked 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY the first time I saw it but now looking back I can see it as a bit ridiculous and a little too obvious in it’s homages. She was good in it, as were Theron and Spader as mentioned.

  37. THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE was where she showed me she was someone to watch. She dug down deep and gave every single thing she had for that cheesy-ass fuckin’ movie. I honestly think it wouldn’t have worked at all without her. Everybody’s chewing the scenery like its covered with nacho cheese, but she’s the only one who makes any of it mean anything. She was down for whatever then and she still is.

  38. Glenne Headley’s passing is sad the same way Mary Ellen Trainor’s passing was sad. They were always dependable and you thought you’d see them in movies forever. Sometimes we forget that our favorite on screen personalities are as mortal as the rest of us.

  39. This got me thinking. When we talk character actors we almost always refer to men. I would argue that Glenne Hedley was a character actor. Who are some of the best women character actors? Is there a female equivalent to JT Walsh, the greatest character actor that ever lived?

  40. Great question, Sternshein. Margo Martindale is the first to come to mind for me. I mainly know her from Justified, but I notice her in little roles in movies sometimes.

  41. CCH Pounder (FACE OFF, The Shield, ORPHAN)

    Kathy Bates

    Ruth Gordon

    Annie Potts

  42. Kim Dickens

    Melissa Leo

    Maria Bello

    Laura Dern (WILD AT HEART, Enlightened, WILD, *spoiler* Twin Peaks)

  43. Frances Sternhagen is another one. And I think we can mention many more if we put our minds to it.

  44. Thank you to the outlawvern commenters and Vern his own damn self for taking a thing of horrible sadness and allowing it to be a reason for appreciation. Off the top of my head and first thing in the morning I’d like to add:

    Illeana Douglas

    and the ultimate….

    Mary Woronov!!!!!!!!!!

    Give me most of the day and I’ll have a million of ’em.

  45. If a female equivalent of JT Walsh is someone who made stuff better by being there and who left much too soon, I have to say I still miss Elizabeth Pena.

    That said, with the exception of Jeff Goldblum, pretty much everyone, male and female, in THE RIGHT STUFF is a world class character actor. So I’m gonna nominate Veronica Cartwright as the female JT Walsh. She’s been working for 60 years and has credits with Hitchcock, George Miller, Ridley Scott (in a parallel universe she’s Ripley) and Alan Smithee, plus two Body Snatchers movies, and the still great FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR. And, like I said, she makes stuff better by being there.

    And Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  46. Some really great mentions here but I do feel Veronica Cartwright has the strongest case. I still wanted to chime in with the first person to come to mind though: Frances Fisher.

  47. Keeping my Godfather binge-watch sorta going with this one – even though Al Pacino and James Caan are clearly not in the same room during their one scene together (I also like how Caan is the only gangster without prosthetics on his face, like “No way I’m putting that shit on”.) This one’s still admirable and ambitious but also sluggishly paced and lackadaisically plotted. How can a movie with such eye-popping colors, gorgeous matte paintings, and more split diopter shots than any Brian De Palma movie still end up being this boring? Throw in the Pacino performance that birthed all Pacino impressions – and it just makes no sense that this movie is as unexciting and uninvolving as it is.

    It’s not all bad – Korsmo is in the top tier of kid sidekicks, and I’ll have to say I kinda dug the Madonna subplot this time – she’s not “good” but she’s kinda perfect for the over-the-top Basic Instinct-esque erotic thriller scenes with Beatty. Their scenes together are blatantly narcissistic, but they’re also campy and fun and wildly inappropriate for a Disney movie (And yes, the nipples are as clear as day on the Blu Ray).

  48. With regards to the conversation about female character actors, Joanna Cassidy is a name I’d like to throw in. Mainly know her just from BLADE RUNNER, ROGER RABBIT and her great character on SIX FEET UNDER.

  49. Richard Marks, 4-Time Oscar-Nominated Film Editor, Dies at 75

    He worked on such films as 'Apocalypse Now,' 'Terms of Endearment,' 'Serpico,' 'Dick Tracy' and 'You've Got Mail.'

  50. Sorry, the link above is the trailer for Naked Tango (1990).

  51. He also (reluctantly) rocks a trilby in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD

  52. I dunno if any of you Tracyologists have ever heard the story about my hero Jay Lynch and a young Robert Crumb meeting Chester Gould, but it is funny fuckin shit. Here is the comic version, written by the great Jayzey himself and drawn by the now-famous Lynch supporter Ed Piskor (who probably spends even more time laughing about the Jayzey/Jay-Z thing than I do or Lynch did). I prefer hearing Jay Lynch tell the story because his impression of Gould’s timing is so funny, but I wouldn’t be able to find the interview with the quickness. So what though, this comic is a laugh and a half.

    Jay Lynch and R. Crumb Meet Chester Gould

    Here's the true life story of underground cartoonists Jay Lynch (no relation) and Robert Crumb going to visit Chester Gould in Chicago's Tr...

    Vern Jr.

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