Besides horror-story monsters, there are no characters that stand the test of time like those comic book –or in this case comic strip– characters. Comic book movies have been running amok for the last decade as Hollywood revisits and reimagines the heroes with origins dating back generations. Dick Tracy, who got his start in the first comic strip to show the gritty, criminal side of the Depression, covered all forms of media overtime and most recently was brought to life by Warren Beatty in the 1990 movie.
I grew up watching that colorful and thrilling drama that also features Madonna and Al Pacino. I consumed it over and over again, always with my father, and my sister and I even received Dick and Breathless dolls for Xmas one year. I still today could sit down with that flick anytime.
But before fan Beatty reintroduced the character to the big screen, Dick Tracy had appeared first in movie theater serials, a string of movies and in a television series. Morgan Conway was chosen for the first feature-length movie to play the man drawn with a square jaw in the comic strip.
In Dick Tracy, Conway faces villains newly created for the movie. In this instance, Split Face (Mike Mazurki) is the primary aggressor who has been threatening and murdering victims of varying socio-economic status. Although the school teacher, mayor and middle-class man seem to have nothing in common, there is one connecting thread that Tracy must uncover.
True to Tracy’s habit of neglecting his girlfriend, Tess Truhart (Anne Jeffreys) is repeatedly stood up by the sleuth in favor of following a lead. Tess finds herself in danger and nearly killed by Splitface in this yarn, but the potential loss of his loved one doesn’t make Tracy any better at keeping their dates.
Also on hand and introduced without any explanation is Jr. (Mickey Kuhn), an orphan who was adopted by the unmarried Tracy and is equally looked after by Tess. I could spot the inspiration for a scene in the 1990 Dick Tracy in this version, as Jr. clings to the back of the villain’s car to help the police track down the killer.
Dick Tracy was as enjoyable as one would expect in bringing to a full-length film a character well loved by the public. The studio went to lengths to pick an actor who could look as Tracy did in the Chester Gould comic strip and didn’t do a bad job. Conway is a decent actor and the rest of the cast supports him splendidly.