Saturday, April 14, 2007


Of all the 40's crime fighter movie series I've been watching recently, the Dick Tracy films (based on the long-running comic series created by Chester Gould) are the cheapest looking and the least exciting ones, but if this film is typical of the short-lived series, then there are some simple pleasures for film buffs to enjoy. In two earlier films, Tracy was played by Morgan Conway, but apparently there was popular demand to replace him with Ralph Byrd, who played Tracy in a couple of serials in the 30's (and who also was Tracy in a 50's TV show). I haven't seen Conway and I'm not all that familiar with the comic strip (though I do remember watching the animated series when I was very young) but Byrd seems well cast as the no-nonsense cop. What doesn't translate as well is the colorful milieu of the comic strip, with its fairly graphic violence, exaggerated characters out of Damon Runyon, and bizarrely named villains. One night, a hulking, limping man named the Claw (Jack Lambert) who has a hook for a hand, breaks into a warehouse where he and his cronies steal some furs and kill a night watchman in the process. Tracy and his sidekick Pat Patton (Lyle Latell) are on the case with some help from an old man named Sightless Silas (Jimmy Conlin) who hangs out in front of the Blinking Skull bar pretending to be blind, picking up bits of info to sell to Tracy. Silas overhears the Claw and, in the movie's best scene, is eventually tracked down and disposed of. Tracy suspects that the fur company's recent change of insurance companies may be tied to the theft, and he's right, but is the bad guy Peter Premium, the insurance agent (William B. Davidson) or the fur company boss (Charles Marsh)? Retired (and very hammy) Shakespearean actor Vitamin Flintheart (Ian Keith) gets pressed into service by Tracy, as does Longshot Lilly (Bernadene Hayes). The low budget is obvious in the threadbare sets and costumes, and the film doesn't do justice to the strange world of the comic strip, although a solid noir mood is established in some scenes. I was surprised that Tracy's longtime girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Kay Christopher) had so little to do. The brutish Lambert is quite scary and the pompous Keith is fun. Bryd anchors all in a steadfast fashion. With a one hour running time, the film goes by quickly, which is a plus. [TCM]

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