Dick Tracy is one of those movies that I end up returning to every few years. It's a film that has never received a vast following and rarely tops anyone's favorites but I think of it as a film that everyone should watch. It is the very definition of a cult classic and it is a film that has aged remarkably well due to its unique visual style. Sadly, the behind-the-scenes politics and behavior of Warren Beatty means we probably won't see any more Dick Tracy content until he died but at least it was due to him loving the character "that" much.
The premise is the inspiration for virtually all other police procedurals as well as at least part of Batman's world. Dick Tracy is a square-jawed police detective in an unnamed city (Homeville in the comic strip) that is overrun by grotesque gangsters. The comic strip has been running since 1931 and this is set somewhere during Prohibition, though it incorporates several World War 2 characters in the mix. It's a shame this movie never got a sequel because I'd love to see Tracy murder some Nazis.
|The color pattern is eye-popping.|
Dick Tracy is not a particularly complicated movie but it's surprisingly rich in detail. You get the impression this is a setting that has a fairly vast and deep history to it. Rather than just using one or two Tracy villains, virtually his entire Rogues Gallery appears in various scenes. It's like if Tim Burton's Batman had crowd scenes with the Legion of Doom. There's Pruneface, Flat Top, Itchy, and many other grotesques that usually only get one or two scenes but are memorable to fans while also hinting at a much richer universe. Unfortunately, most of them get knocked off without fanfare.
Most modern viewers are not going to have any idea who any of these characters are, though, despite how memorable their appearances are. Villains in Dick Tracy, the men at least, wear their sins on their faces so all of them are deformed with fantastic prosthetics. It was a conscious stylistic choice along with the fact the world is painted in primary colors of greens, reds, yellows, and blues in order to look more like a comic strip. It certainly adds a unique look to the film and helps it stick in your mind.
|Dick Tracy is a man of action not words.|
Dick Tracy's musical score also deserves to be talked about because it may be the only time in history that there were too many masters at work for a single film. The Dick Tracy score consists of work by Danny Elfman (Batman, Harry Potter), Madonna, and Stephen Sondheim (everything ever done by Meatloaf). There's some truly fantastic songs on this movie with the upbeat jazz tune, "Back in Business" being a particular favorite of mine. Good luck getting the complete soundtrack anywhere but Youtube, though, because no one apparently got along behind the scenes.
|Al Pacino is barely recognizable.|
|She'll leave you breathless.|
Warren Beatty was the last of the Golden Age of Hollywood movie stars alongside Robert Redford and he apparently called in every single favor he had for the cast. In addition to Al Pacino and Madonna, the movie has Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, and Dick fricking Van Dyke spread throughout the cast. Apparently, Dustin Hoffman actually took the role as a joke because his character is utterly incomprehensible for 99% of his acting.
Oddly, I think this movie being rated PG was a great mistake as it's definitely PG-13 and if they had the slightest trace of blood would have been a decent R-rated movie despite its binary good vs. evil. People are routinely gunned down, one guy gets drowned in cement, the sexual double entendres are off the chart, and the body count probably matches several Bond movies. The Dick Tracy comic strips were equally violent but it's kind of surprising to see Madonna in see-through negligee in the same sort of movie rating as Star Wars.
In conclusion, this is a fascinating movie and wonderful experience but it does have some serious issues. I feel like there could have been a lot more from this franchise if it had been allowed to have a sequel or reboot. Unfortunately, Warren Beatty has effectively sat on the rights for thirty years and still owns them to this day. He absolutely loves the character and his experience playing him but doesn't want anyone else to play with "his" toys.