Directed and Produced by Warren Beatty
Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.
Based on the characters and comic strip created by Chester Gould
I’m reminded of a conversation my wife Patricia and I had some years back. Before I stopped being cheap and simply bought DVDs I would burn movies from my DVR onto blank DVDs. Two of those movies happened to be the Tim Burton “Batman” and DICK TRACY. Patricia is curious as to why I put the both of them on the same DVD. I shrug. I dunno. Just worked out that way.
She has a different theory. “Maybe because your subconscious made the connection that if Bruce Wayne had decided to be a cop instead of Batman he’d be Dick Tracy?”
Actually, I think it had more to do with the fact that both movies together had enough running time to fit on one four hour DVD but I have to admit that Patricia may just have had a point there. Batman and Dick Tracy have an awful lot in common. Both men have sacrificed normal lives to wage an unending war on crime. Both fight bizarre villains with outrageous physical and psychological deformities. Both utilize advanced technology in their work and both wear distinctive outfits that identify them immediately so you have no doubt whom you’re dealing with.
This is never more apparent than in the scene where we first see Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) clearly when he steps out of a police car wearing a midnight black suit, blindingly white shirt, blood red tie and canary yellow trench coat with matching fedora. Now no self-respecting cop in the real world is going to wear a getup like that but hey, this is DICK TRACY we’re talking about and the way Warren Beatty wears the clothes and plays the character, we buy into it with no problem. He’s Dick Tracy. I defy any actor today to pull off making a canary yellow trench coat and fedora look as cool as Beatty does.
Dick Tracy has been summoned via his trusty wrist radio to the scene a massive mob rubout. Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) has made his move to take over The City. He’s rubbed out his major rival Lips Manliss (Paul Sorvino) and seized all of his assets, including his sizzling hot girlfriend Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) who’s also the best singer in The City, backed up by her master pianist 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin)
Dick Tracy isn’t able to get the goods on Big Boy, not even after sweating Big Boy’s stooges Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman) Flattop (William Forsythe) and Itchy (Ed O’Ross). But he’s not about to let Big Boy have his way in his town and he goes on a crime busting crusade that would make The Dark Knight himself envious. While Dick Tracy is cleaning up the town against such miscreants such as The Brow (Chuck Hicks) Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong) and Spud Spaldoni (James Caan) he’s also got to deal with other matters. Such as his relationship with his longtime girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headley) who’s starting to think that maybe there’s not much future in being involved a man whose true love is fighting crime. And then there’s The Kid (Charlie Korsmo) a street urchin who comes to live with Dick Tracy after Tracy catches him stealing a watch and maybe is awakening in him paternal instincts Tracy never had before. And Breathless Mahoney starts coming after Tracy for reasons of her own and the feelings she’s awakening in him had best not be mentioned if we’re to keep this review family friendly.
DICK TRACY originally showed up in theatres the year after the wildly successful Tim Burton “Batman” and it was pretty obvious that Touchstone Pictures/Disney was trying to generate the same kind of hysteria “Batman” had generated and they came pretty close. The DICK TRACY logo was almost as ubiquitous as the Bat symbol had been the summer before and the media hype generated was at a fever pitch, fueled mostly by the Madonna/Warren Beatty romance that had begun while they were filing this movie. But despite all the hoopla that DICK TRACY would be another “Batman”, it stands up on it’s own as a unique interpretation of the character. I like how everything in this world has only primary colors and most of the time everything is staged as if the action is supposed to be in individual comic panels. And there’s no product placement at all here. When Tracy opens a can of beans the label simply says ‘Beans’. The police cars simply say ‘Police’. A tube of toothpaste simply says ‘Toothpaste’. It’s a comic book world these people inhabit and as a director, Warren Beatty does an excellent job of translating a comic book world into a real life language we as an audience can get a hold of and accept with batting an eye. I love the look of DICK TRACY which makes it plain we’re in a comic book world that at the same time looks highly theatrical and yet functional.
That’s not to say that I’m totally in love with the movie. Much as I love Madonna I wish the movie had spent less time with her trying to vamp Dick Tracy and more time with him going toe-to-toe with the various bizarre crime bosses of The City in tommy-gun shootouts. I mean, this movie has great visual bad guys like Littleface, The Brow, Influence and Mumbles and most of them we see only enough of to get us interested in and then they’re either bumped off or we never see them again. I also don’t like the music by Danny Elfman. He’d just done the soundtrack for “Batman” the year before and indeed, a lot of the music in DICK TRACY sounds like music left over from “Batman”
But then there’s the extraordinary visual style of the movie, which suckers me in every time. And the performances of Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. Warren Beatty is obviously having mad fun playing Dick Tracy. He manages to be unbearably square and awfully cool at the same time. Glenne Headly as Tess Trueheart is really good. I like how she lets Tracy knows that she knows what kind of man he is and what life would be like as his wife and it’s cool with her. It’s Tracy that’s too busy cleaning up crime in The City to pick up on the signals.
And there’s a remarkable amount of talent in DICK TRACY. You oughta see it just for the cast alone. You’ve got Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, James Caan, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, Glenne Headly, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Allan Garfield, John Schuck, Charlie Fleischer (we all love him as the voice of Roger Rabbit) Mandy Patinkin, Madonna, Paul Sorvino, James Tolkan, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, fer crying out loud! Colm Meany (from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) Catherine O’Hara, Henry Silva, Mary Woronov, Michael J. Pollard (Warren Beatty’s co-star from “Bonnie & Clyde”) and Mike Mazurki….whew….and that’s not even half of the cameos you can spot when you really try.
So should you see DICK TRACY? If you haven’t, Netflix it at your earliest opportunity. It’s just plain, good old fashioned fun to watch. It’s a movie you can pop into the DVD player, sit back with your beverage and snacks of choice and just have a good time watching. And it’s for that reason that I suspect it’ll be a favorite of many for a long time. I know it’ll be one of mine. Enjoy.