Dick Tracy (1990)

dick tracy poster 1990 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking visuals

So-so story

Movie Info

Movie Name: Dick Tracy

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Genre(s): Action/Adventure/Comic Book/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  June 13, 1990 (Premiere)/June 15, 1990 (US)/July 6, 1990 (UK)

MPAA Rating: PG

dick tracy warren beatty montage

Tracy takes on crime!!!

Crime is on the rise and there is only one man who can stop it: Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty)! With his girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) regretting her choice of men and an orphaned sidekick named “The Kid” (Charlie Korsmo) who Tracy can’t seem to shake, Dick Tracy is trying to crack down on the harden criminals being led by Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), but Caprice isn’t taking things lying down. Caprice wants Tracy off his tail, and he’s willing to do anything to stop Tracy. Tracy is going to need someone on the inside and that person might just be Caprice’s new singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) who also has the habit of choosing the wrong men…but will she help Tracy or kill him?

Directed by Warren Beatty, Dick Tracy is a comic-strip action-adventure film. The film is an adaptation of the classic Chester Gould newspaper comic which started its run on October 4, 1931. The film was released as a summer blockbuster but received modest returns leading to the cancellation plans to make the film the start of a franchise. The film also received legal issues over the rights to the character with debate over who owned the property. The film received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Makeup, and Best Original Song (“Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”) with nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Pacino), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Sound.

dick tracy flattop william forsythe

Eat lead, coppers!!!

Dick Tracy was a big deal. After Batman, the film was being marketed as the next big summer movie. There were “making-of” videos on TV and interviews with Beatty and other stars. The addition of Madonna also brought more attention to the film since she was also at the top of her game…and then Dick Tracy fizzled.

The story for the movie is largely the problem. While movies like Batman had a ton of action and adventure, Dick Tracy was a throwback to serials and cops-and-robbers type adventures. There are kids on the corner selling papers and tommy-guns, but it largely is a “police always get their man type story” with a little bit of mystery surrounding the identity of the Blank. At two hours, the movie feels like it needs a little more substance.

dick tracy breathless mahoney maddonna warren beatty

Ummm…Breathless. A little personal space? I’m old enough to be your dad

Beatty is rather old for the role, but he does work for the most part. He has that chiseled chin, but I don’t know that I saw Tracy as necessarily a looker. With almost everyone else in the cast in heavy make-up, it almost feels like Tracy should have been made to match his character more. The film is loaded with actors, but you can’t see many of them and a lot of the roles amount to cameos. Al Pacino eats all his scenes as Caprice, and William Forsythe also makes the most of his small role as Flattop (who is a bit more present than some of the other gangsters). Seymour Cassel and Charles Durning help make up the police with Dick Van Dyke as the prosecutor, and Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin, Henry Silva, R.G. Armstrong, Dustin Hoffman, play some of the gangsters James Caan. Other actors appearing include Marshall Bell, Kathy Bates, Colm Meaney, Catherine O’Hara, Henry Jones, and Mary Woronov. Much was made of Madonna’s performance which honestly was better than some other singers stuck in movies roles, and Charlie Korsmo and Glenne Headly round out the cast as Tracy’s support.

dick tracy al pacino big boy caprice

Sorry, Pacino…this doesn’t make up for Jack and Jill…

What does stand out in Dick Tracy is the visuals. The movie is largely primary and secondary colors in a sea of darkness. Much of the film from the cars to the costumes to the gangsters themselves look like bright colored gumballs on the screen. In addition to the color pallet, there was the make-up which (as already mentioned) made many of the actors unrecognizable.

Dick Tracy never really stood a chance.  It was marketed as a big action movie when it really feels like an homage to older films.  It had a ton of weight on its shoulders and buckled under that weight.  It is by no means a perfect movie, but much of the initial criticism was rather unfair.  Despite this, the influence of Dick Tracy can be felt in movies like Sin City which does what Dick Tracy did naturally through computer animation…and succeeded.  Ironically, Batman:  The Animated Series felt like a direct descendant of the visuals of the film despite Dick Tracy hoping to be a Batman in the theaters.  The flip side of this would be something like The Spirit, which tried to do Dick Tracy on a budget and was completely outclassed.  Dick Tracy does feel like an original, it just might not be the original that everyone wanted.  Calling Dick Tracy!

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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