Dick Tracy (1990)

dick tracy IMDb

When Ben pointed out that Dick Tracy the movie tries to emulate/copy Tim Burton’s original Batman film, I was all set to spell out the ways in which Tracy is ridiculous compared to Batman. But on further review, they’re both kind of ridiculous. I just arbitrarily like Batman more, because I have a longer relationship with the character and an affectionate love for him thanks to the 60s television show. Or maybe Dick Tracy just isn’t as good of a movie. Yeah, it’s probably the second one.

It makes sense that the Dick Tracy and Batman movies would have a lot in common stylistically. They’re both based on 1930s comic strips, which the filmmakers worked hard to recreate in their live action counterparts. While Batman opted for mostly muted tones with punches of bright color added for effect, Tracy goes crazy for primary hues. You’d think the movie was sponsored by Crayola. I get it, that’s what the comic looked like. But it’s just too much.

The characters are also similar levels of cheesy. The Joker is pretty laughable when you think about it (as are most of Bruce Wayne’s adversaries), but Dick Tracy’s nemeses take things to another level. Their defining characteristic is that they all have nicknames based on a physical disfigurement: Lips Manlis, Pruneface, Flattop, the Brow. Whatever you are picturing when you hear these names, you probably aren’t far off from what was shown on screen. The prosthetics and makeup for this film are impressive, but at the same time it’s a bit much when every other person in the movie has a fake nose.

Both movies also have all-star casts, and in the case of Dick Tracy, Warren Beatty clearly called in a lot of favors. Al Pacino co-stars as crime boss “Big Boy” Caprice, Dustin Hoffman as Caprice’s henchman Mumbles, James Caan as a crime boss who refuses to submit to Caprice’s authority, and Dick Van Dyke as the district attorney. With the exception of Pacino, these roles amount to little more than glorified cameos. Clearly Beatty had some favors stored up (or maybe he was blackmailing them just like “Bad Boy” Caprice?). And of course you can’t talk about the cast without mentioning Madonna, who was dating Beatty at the time. She’s actually great as sexpot Breathless Mahoney, but her casting was clearly based on nepotism.

I think the real difference between Dick Tracy and Batman boils down to the story. The fare presented in Tracy is as two dimensional as the original comics that inspired the film. Maybe this is because Tracy is a fairly by the book kind of detective. He’s unambiguously good, with no hints at a dark or tortured past. I just prefer my heros to be a bit more complex.

Rating: C

Dick Tracy came out in 1990, a year after Tim Burton’s first Batman film was released, and it is very obvious that this film used Burton’s Batman as inspiration. It makes sense as they’re both similar characters and also both are based on a comic. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this film, in what was clearly a passion project for him. By all accounts he was very controlling on set, and strived for everything to be perfect about this movie. In the end, everything is not perfect, it is just ok.

Beatty stars as Dick Tracy, a detective in an unnamed city whose only goal is to hunt down Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino). Caprice controls all of the city’s crime and is involved in all sorts of illegal dealings and hopes to take over all of the small businesses in the town. His first move is to force nightclub owner Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino) to sign over the deed to his popular nightclub ‘Club Ritz’. He then kills Lips and uses the nightclub as his base of operations. Dick Tracy, with the help of street urchin ‘The Kid’ (Charlie Korsmo) must stop Big Boy before he and his weird assortment of henchmen can take over the town.

Beatty sure must have called in some favours for this film. The cast is nearly all big names. Actors like James Cann, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Glenne Headley, William Forsythe, Dick Van Dyke and Madonna all appear, many in very minor roles. The big names add some appeal to the film, but this is Beatty’s show. His detective is front and centre for nearly every scene in the film. He is ably supported by Pacino, who seems to be having an awesome time hamming it up as Big Boy Caprice. Madonna is also surprisingly sexy as nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney. Beatty is ok as Tracy, I wonder if he might have been better served just directing this film though. It feels like he spread himself too thin by directing and starring in this movie, I’d have liked to see what someone else might have done in the role.

As is said before, this film is clearly inspired by Tim Burton’s first Batman film. They have a similar look and feel to them. The biggest difference being the colours used. Dick Tracy has intentionally used bright colours whereas Batman relied on darker colours. Beatty has even hired the same musician, Danny Elfman, to write the music for Dick Tracy. He is clearly copying Burton, which makes sense, both Batman and Tracy were created in the 1930s and that era is trying to be brought to life in both of these films.

I enjoyed Dick Tracy. The make-up is really good, nearly all of Big Boys thugs have a facial disfigurement of some kind and the make-up brings all of them to life really well. This is a colourful film that feels somewhat letdown by a vanilla leading man, but is saved by a charismatic villain, terrific make-up and a sexy leading lady.

Rating: C+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s