DICK TRACY, DETECTIVE
There were many comic-book characters adapted to the screen during the 1940s but it was not until the 1960s and in particular from Batman (1989) onwards that filmed comic-books developed a uniquely cinematic style based on the look of the comic-book. The world that serial comic-book superheroes and characters inhabited prior to this was a prosaically realistic one. The serials were not films blown up with stylistic poses in the Batman (1943) serial, for instance, Batmans cape hangs with realistic limpness rather than puffs up on invisible winds or casts bat shadows on the wall behind him. There is no shadowy grimness or fantastically stylised cities, the surroundings here are documentary-like and unimaginatively lit. If you dont understand this, there might be some disappointment to seeing Dick Tracy on screen. There is none of the comic-strips square-jawed stylism and Spliftaces split face is reduced to merely a makeup scar. Without the form of the modern comic-book film established at this point, the nearest model Dick Tracy has to draw on is the crime thriller. That said, when you place all of this in perspective, Dick Tracy is quite an effective film.
The film starts out as a crime drama plot but soon takes a number of interesting turns, throwing in all manner of mysterious hypnotists, crystal ball prophecies and a very weird scene with an unnervingly intense mortician. By the end, William Berke, previously a director of B Westerns, has developed some striking and stylised film noir poses the exactingly directed killing of the professor being one notable set piece. The gaunt and balding Morgan Conway comes nowhere near resembling the square-jawed Dick Tracy of the comic book, nevertheless he presents a certain and assured hero. It is a performance that stands out, where in most crime dramas and especially serials of the day the stock heroes tended to blandness. There is also a likable sense of humour to the film, especially a running gag about Tracy perpetually standing up Tess Truehart. The result is, amid the routine proliferation of 30s and 40s comic-book adaptations, one rare entry that crafts a good film out of the material.
The subsequent Dick Tracy feature films were: Dick Tracy vs Cueball (1946), Dick Tracys Dilemma (1947) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947). Morgan Conway appeared again in Cueball but was replaced by Ralph Byrd, the serial Dick Tracy, in the next two entries. Ralph Byrd also played the part in a short-lived half-hour tv series Dick Tracy (1950-1). There was a brief attempt to revive the series amid the 1960s Batman camp fad but this went no further than a 1967 pilot starring Ray McDonnell. Dick Tracy (1990) was a big-budget remake directed by and starring Warren Beatty.
Full film available online here:-