Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dick Tracy


I remember that I was very, very impressed by the special effects, which were amazing for its time, and by the production design. It is all in primary colors, and I mean all. Seven primary colors, in fact. Seven colors with no different shades. The red they use, for instance, is the same for a neon light, a man’s coat, a car, or a wall. Tracy’s yellow coat is the same shade as every other yellow thing used in the film. This was not easy, and it is visually very nice, recalling the film’s roots in the Sunday funnies.

I used to read them religiously, and Dick Tracy was without a doubt the most bizarre comic ever. Tracy had (has, I guess, as the strip is still running somewhere) a profile that could be used to cut paper, or steel, for that matter. Chester Gould, the artist and writer, created the most outrageous villains I can recall, even in these days of stupid comic book movies. The make-up department did such a good job that I often had no idea who was playing a part. Some were fairly easy, such as Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, James Caan as Spuds Spaldoni, and Mandy Patinkin as 88 Keys, the piano player. Others were tougher, such as Paul Sorvino as Lips Manlis, scarfing down raw oysters by the bushel through a mouth like the Joker’s. I almost got William Forsythe as Flattop, but could never quite place him. The main bad guy, Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice might have been unidentifiable, with his hunch back, huge ass, and gigantic chin, until he opened his mouth, when it was plain that it was Al Pacino. No one else in the world can chew scenery like Al, and Big Boy’s every line was shouted at the top of his voice. One sort of wishes there had been room for even more of Gould’s Gallery of Grotesques, such as Pruneface, Deafy Sweetfellow, B.B. Eyes, Gargles, Tonsils, Headache, Smallmouth Bass, and Habe Corpussle.

Then of course there were the leads: Warren Beatty as Square-Jaw Tracy himself, Glenne Headly (who died just a few months ago, June 8, 2017, and will I ever miss her) as Tess Trueheart, and Madonna as Breathless Mahoney. Madonna totally rocks on five new songs by … believe it or not … Stephen Sondheim!

For some reason I don’t recall being very impressed by the story, by the action. I can’t imagine why. It all works damn well, on a comic book level … and why would you want anything more from Dick Tracy?If anything, the love story between sweet, patient Tess and tongue-tied Tracy is maybe more than we really needed. Anyway, if you haven’t seen this in a while, it’s worth seeing again.