4 Dick Tracy Movies from RKO Pictures

dicktracycueballDick Tracy! Calling Dick Tracy!

Long before Warren Beatty gave us his big-budget, candy-coated adaptation of the legendary and long-running Chester Gould comic strip, Morgan Conway and Ralph Byrd donned the yellow fedora of homicide detective Dick Tracy in a series of four films.

RKO Pictures was “true to the flavor” of the funny papers without resorting to camp. While the studio didn’t exactly nail it, it didn’t botch the job, either. Each pic clocks in at one hour, give or take — just the right length for these none-too-complex crime stories.

dicktracydetectiveDick Tracy, Detective (1945)
With Conway starring, Dick Tracy, Detective is hot on the trail of the slasher Splitface (The Centerfold Girls’ Mike Mazurki), so named for his hideous facial scar. Two die before Tracy starts to get wise, nabbing the villain with the help of wannabe-private eye Junior, and rescuing true love Tess Trueheart (Anne Jeffreys, Zombies on Broadway) in the process.

Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947)
Following the theft of a bunch of furs in an insurance scam, square-jawed Tracy (Byrd, who also played the hero in the serials and the TV show) is on the hunt for The Claw, (Jack Lambert, 1946’s The Killers), a burly, hulking bad guy with a metal hook for a hand, in Dick Tracy’s Dilemma. The utensil comes in handy for knocking people out and cutting up their faces. Meanwhile, Tess (Kay Christopher, Gasoline Alley) gets stood up repeatedly because Dick’s priorities are all out of whack, and has to spend much of her time with effeminate actor Vitamin Flintheart (Ian Keith, It Came from Beneath the Sea), who likes to perform Shakespeare monologues. But of course he does. All in all, it’s a painless hour of good-ol’-fashioned fun.

dicktracygruesomeDick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946)
Essentially, Dilemma is a carbon copy of the previous year’s Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, right down to the bumbling cop sidekick who gets hit over the head by the bad guy so often, it’s a wonder he’s alive, still on the force and without a cap in his ass. In Cueball, the main villain is the burly, hulking, bald baddie Cueball (Dick Wessel, TV’s Riverboat), thick-neck-deep in a stolen-diamonds scam. Vitamin even shows up to make some remarks about wanting to be a woman. But of course he does.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)
Finally, in Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, ex-con Gruesome (Frankenstein’s monster himself, Boris Karloff) leads a trio of bank robbers who commit their crimes thanks to a formula that causes people to freeze. As one might guess, Gruesome is sillier than the others, filled with jokey names like Professor A. Tomic; his assistant, I.M. Learned; and the taxidermist Y. Stuffem. And if Tracy (Byrd) works homicide, what’s he doing investigating a bank robbery?

In all four films, virtually every man wears a hat. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

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