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Dick Tracy

USA 1937
produced by
Nat Levine for Republic
directed by Ray Taylor, Alan James
starring Ralph Byrd, Kay Hughes, Lee Van Atta, Smiley Burnette, John Piccori, Carleton Young, Fred Hamilton, Francis X.Bushman, John Dilson, Richard Beach, Buddy Roosevelt, Byron Foulger, Milburn Morante, Monte Montague, Kit Guard, Wally West, Ed 'Oscar' Platt, Lou Fulton
screenplay by Barry Shipman, Winston Miller, based on the comic strip by Chester Gould, special effects by Jack Coyle, Ellis Thackery, Howard Lydecker, Theodore Lydecker

Dick Tracy, Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd), Republic's Dick Tracy, Oscar & Elmer

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The Spider Ring, led by the mysterious Lame One, is taking over the gangster syndicates of California, & everyone opposing the organisation is killed. Initial investigations lead G-Man Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd) nowhere, but when one of his acquaintances, millionair Elliott Brewster (John Dilson), who was secretly in cahoots wioth the ring, is killed too & evidence points at the Spider Ring, Tracy knows he might have a lead. & when his brother Gordon (Richard Beach) is kidnapped when he wants to get further evidence handed to him by Brewster, his suspicions are confirmed.

The Lame One meanwhile has decided to use Gordon as a weapon against his brother & has his hunchbacked surgeon Moloch (John Piccori) transform mild-mannered Gordon into a ruthless criminal (as now played by Carleton Young).

Dick Tracy, along with his colleague Steve (Fred Hamilton) & his superior Clive (Francis X.Bushman), his secrtetary Gwen (Kay Hughes), his inept sidekick (beware - bad comedy by Smiley Burnette !) & the nosy kid Junior (Lee Van Atta, playing pretty much the same role as in Undersea Kingdom) now have to investigeate Gordon's disappearance & at the same time tryto spoil each & every devillish crime the Spider Ring commits with the help of Gordon (unbeknowest to Tracy & company) & their futuristic airplane, the Flying Wing (looking remarkably like a Northrop B-35 that wasn't put into operation until 10 years later).

And crimes there are many, & they vary remarkably in scale: First the criminals want to destroy the Bay Bridge by using sonic waves, later they want to steal a shipload of furs or a most valuable necklace from an airborn blimp, a secret alloy that was developed by the military & chased after by many foreign powers. A western goldmine owned by old duffer Death Valley Johnny (Milburn Morante), a newly developed jet plane to sell to a foreign power and a gold shipment are also among the things the Spiderring whants to get their hands on. But of course the FBI is always hot on their trail & in a series of chases by car, boat, plane & blimp, & Dick Tracy always manages to save the day.

At the same time though, Dick & company fail to get any nearer to the core of the Spider Ring (& with it the identity of the Lame One) itself or find Gordon - that is until the Spider Ring wants to abduct an engraver in order to help them forge money, & Dick disguises as that man to infiltrate the Ring. Dick's cover is of course soon blown & Moloch prepares him for brain surgery, but he had enough time to transmit the location of the Spider Ring's headquaters to the FBI, who soon close in on the Ring, while the Lame One reveals his identity to Dick - he is in fact mild-mannered philanthropist Odette (Edwin Stanley), who only played a small part in the previous proceedings - before he sets a time trigger to blow up his headquarters, & Dick with it. But Dick of course is always in hot pursuit of Odette & the explosion in the end only takes out Moloch.

Odette soon has Gordon drive him to safety, but Gordon starts to remember his past life again, starts to distinguish between good & evil again - & when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Junior & Gwen run in front of his car, his conscience kicks back in full swing, & instead of running the 2 of them over, he drives the car (& with it himself & Odette) over a cliff to certain death. Dying, he says a last farewell to his brother ...

Ed 'Oscar' Platt & Lou Fulton make another appearence as the comical backwood yokels Oscar & Elmer.


For many, Dick Tracy is the finest serial produced by Republic, maybe the finest serial ever as it looks extremely polished & was the first serial to bring the newly developed formula for serials to full effect - which meant essentially that a serial would no longer tell one story chopped up into 10 to 15 episodes, but tell one story per episode (always culminating in a cliffhanger that is resolved in the beginning of the next episode before the next story begins) , & these stories loosely connected by an overall theme. & in my view, this started the downfall of the serial itself long before the competition of television would put an end to this sort of movies. Fact is that while earlier serials cheerfully went out of their way to make a story exciting, fascinating & suspenseful over it's 10- to 15-episodes run, full of plot developments & often with exhilerating results, later serials (circa from the 40's onwards) would tell 10 to 15 seperate stories that would adhere to more or less the same formula, & each in about 20 minutes time, & only in the final episode try to tie it all up neatly - or not so neatly indeed.

Be that as it may, Dick Tracy was an enourmous success for Republic, causing them to make 3 (!) more serials about the comic-book-G-Man. & when in the mid 1940's RKO tried to make a series of B-movies about Dick Tracy starring Morgan Conway, they had to replace him with Ralph Byrd after only 2 movies, as Byrd's popularity in the role was too overwhelming. Shortly before his death, Byrd also starred in a Dick Tracy-tv-series in 1952.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD



Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...


Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!


Bauliche Angelegenheiten
ein Roman von
Michael Haberfelner


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