Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dick Tracy, Detective (1945)

Fun 40s Pulp

 - Dick Tracy is one of the most memorable detective characters in the history of film and print. The yellow coat-wearing, by-the-book star of Chester Gould's famous comic strip "Dick Tracy" that ran from 1931-1977 also built a number of feature films, the first of which was Dick Tracy (1937) starring Ralph Byrd. The 1945 RKO Radio Pictures film Dick Tracy, Detective was the first of two films to feature Morgan Conway in the title role. 

Dick Tracy, Detective attempts to capture the spirit of the comics with a mixture of dark thrills and goofy comedy. Largely entertaining while getting its foot stuck in the usual 1940s B-movie hang-ups, the story sees Tracy face the unmentionable horror of the serial killer "Splitface" while also trying to balance a home and love life in this pulp RKO Radio picture. Much of the plot is ridiculous and includes a significant amount of clunky and forced humor. However, although initially appearing stenciled from the usual 40s B-movie fair, Dick Tracy, Detective gets credit for its surprising move into unexpected territory as the story unfolds. The film also gets some credit for a few nice shots within its generally run-of-the-mill visual style.

The second of only three actors to ever play the part of Dick Tracy on film (Warren Beatty would resurrect the character for his 1990 film), Morgan Conway is an unexciting but serviceable Tracy. While not necessarily unconvincing in the role, Conway is rather stiff, nasally and not as charming as he assumes. Basically, Conway feels like a functional stand-in for a better actor. He would not last long in the role either; Conway did one more Dick Tracy film before the original screen Tracy, Ralph Byrd, returned to the series.

The supporting cast fits their roles much better than headliner Conway. Anne Jeffreys is very enjoyable as Tracy's girlfriend Tess Trueheart, a then-unknown Jane Greer proves that she was sharp, strong and striking even before her knockout role in Out of the Past (1947) as suspect Jane Owens and Mike Mazurki (fresh from his great turn in Murder, My Sweet (1944)) is perfectly cast as the menacing maniac Splitface.

All things considered, RKO's 1945 film Dick Tracy, Detective is a fun 1940s pulp flick but not much more.

CBC Rating: 6/10


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