Dick Tracy, Detective
Steven Hellerstedt | 07/19/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Someone's sending extortion letters and killing their recipients. The mayor himself has received an extortion letter. The city is in an uproar. This is a job for... Dick Tracy!
Morgan Conway plays the hatchet-jawed detective in this entertaining 1946 offering from RKO Studios. DICK TRACY, DETECTIVE is a cut above most B-movies, and the film plays it straight with the audience. Unlike Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy of 1990, DTD doesn't weigh the bad guy down in a latex mask and a zoot suit. The I've-seen-him-somewhere-before Mike Mazurki (who made a cameo appearance in Beatty's film) plays the surgeon's-knife wielding Splitface, and the only make-up he wears is a hideous scar down the middle of his face. The lovely blonde Ann Jeffreys plays Tracy's sweetheart Tess Trueheart. Jane Greer, who is probably best remembered as Robert Mitchum's love interest in the film noir classic OUT OF THE PAST, rounds out the lead cast as Judith Owens.
The cast is a touch above competent, although you get the feeling that Conway might have been better cast as Splitface. He has a whiskey and cigarette aura about him, something that doesn't quite jibe with the super-square Dick Tracy. Still, this is a B-movie, and you take what you can get when you aren't one of the big boys. At least he had the right profile for the part. On the other hand, Jeffreys' Tess is played with energy and humor and her performance belie DTD humble origins.
The photography and editing gives DTD a singular film noirish feel. The film opens with a high crane shot of a man leaning against a lamppost. It's evening and the shadows are long and the echoes are loud and lonesome. A woman gets off a bus and walks down the deserted street. We see the shadow of a man fill a doorway. We hear trailing footsteps while the camera dollies closer to the startled woman. Cut to a long shot of her walking. A closer shot of her worried face. Cut again to a behind the figure shot. She turns to scream and a knife wielding arm flashes above her head....
DTD is loaded with deep shadows and shadings. What it lacks to be noir is the moral ambiguity and corruption in the good guys. Dick Tracy is as square as they come, he doesn't smoke, drink, or unbutton one button of his suit during the entire movie. It would take an actor of some skill to make him interesting, and Conway simply isn't up to it.
I was surprised that I enjoyed DICK TRACY, DETECTIVE as much as I did. Ann Jeffreys adds a spark to every scene she's in, and Mazurki is menacing enough to keep us close to the edge of our seats. Conway's Tracy is closer to an anonymous G-man than the comic book crime fighter. This is a pleasant enough movie to merit a recommendation."