Dick Tracy on Blu-ray
December 31, 2012

Dick Tracy was released on Blu-ray last month. I saw the movie when it came out, and I was impressed by the cast. I also liked the limited palette, with only a few shades of bright colors used to give the movie a comic-strip look. For instance, early on, a set of oil barrels are red, green, and yellow, and suits are similar crazy shades — emerald, purple, and so on. It looks like someone spilled their crayon box all over the screen. Most famous is Tracy’s yellow trenchcoat and fedora, as shown on the cover.

Warren Beatty directed as well as stars. His then-girlfriend Madonna famously played the slinky, single-entendre-spouting songstress Breathless. Most everyone else has crazy makeup to make them resemble Chester Gould’s caricatures, with their exaggerated, almost inhuman features giving them their names: Flattop, Lips, Little Face, and so on. With the remastered video, everything looks great, but the closeups can’t hide the clay-like appliances used to create the appearances.

The plot has Tracy wanting to capture Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino as a hunchbacked bully) while avoiding promotion to a desk job, but it’s just an excuse for lots of showdowns, posturing, and shootouts. Tracy and his girlfriend, Tess Truehart (Glenne Headly), wind up taking in an orphan Kid (Charlie Korsmo) to save him from the streets. Also appearing are Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Mandy Patinkin, James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Michael J. Pollard, and Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles.

Dick Tracy won three Oscars: Art/Set Direction, Makeup, and Best Original Song for Stephen Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”. (Pacino was nominated for Supporting Actor but lost to Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.) Those three awards make it the comic movie most recognized by the Academy Awards, according to IMDB.

I still like the atmospheric music. I hadn’t realized I could sing along to most of the songs, still — but then, I owned the Music From and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy cassette tape. Watching the movie again — which looks great, let me reiterate — was a fun reminder of what good comic movies looked like before we got the artistry and relative subtlety of things like The Avengers, Iron Man, or The Dark Knight.

The DVD comes as a two-disc set, one of the discs being a digital copy, the other the Blu-ray. There are no extras whatsoever, although there apparently exists a longer director’s cut version of the movie. (Unless you count ads, which include one for Castle Season 4 on DVD. The promo for the 25th Anniversary Edition of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on Blu-ray seems a better match.) As with The Rocketeer, this is a bare-bones Disney/Touchstone catalog release on Blu-ray to get whatever sales they can from the new format. However, the screen wait logo, while the Blu-ray loads, is the butt end of a 30s car being peppered with bullets, which amused me. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

12 Responses  
David Oakes writes:  

But can you sing along to the Avengers or Dark Knight?

(Iron Man, of course, being the exception that proves the rule.)

James Schee writes:  

Wow, I’ve seen this movie only once, in theater at the age of 15 when it came out. I had no idea who or what Dick Tracy was, I just thought Madonna was really good looking at the time. lol

It was so bizarre, if I’d had a cellphone back then I probably would have called my parents to come get me as there were times I was just dumbfounded at the movie. One of these days I need to see it again, just to see if it was that bad, or was I just missing things.

Johanna writes:  

David, I was envisioning a sing-along version of this, like they do with Sound of Music, but the songs aren’t given enough running time. You can, however, sing along to Popeye, an incredibly faithful comic movie.

James, Madonna still looks great in this movie, and those dresses are still marvels of engineering in how they stay on.

Jim Kosmicki writes:  

Disney Comics did a really, really nice comic book tie-in by Kyle Baker. it was three “bookshelf” issues (or “Dark Knight” format if you’re old-school), with the third being an adaptation of the film. So the first two issues were original story setting up the film. The art was by Kyle Baker and gorgeous. I cannot remember if he also wrote the books (I think the official movie adaptation issue had a specific writer attached). Almost nobody knew this was out at the time, so very few people seem to have ever heard of it. There was also a trade paperback version that’s even harder to find.

IIRC (my copies of both versions are in storage somewhere), Beatty was very particular about his image (and Baker’s style is rather unique) so they found one version of Beatty/Tracy that he approved and used it for Tracy’s face in most(all?) of the panels. It took a book with a specific artistic style, adapting a film with a specific visual style, and added another layer on top. I need to dig through my boxes and find this book again…

Johanna writes:  

Comics.org lists the writer as John Moore for issues 1 and 2 and Len Wein for issue 3.

Jim Kosmicki writes:  

I was thinking Wein for the official adaptation, but couldn’t remember on the other two. And as you could tell, i was too lazy to think of actually looking it up! I do remember that all three were solidly done, with great Baker art and solid stories.

Johanna writes:  

That’s ok, it gave me something to contribute to the discussion. :) I should see if KC has those — I’m always eager to see more Baker work.

Argo Plummer writes:  

I remember seeing the movie in the theaters during my senior year of high school. It was the summer after the first Batman came out if I remember correctly. I thought it was OK. I do own the Madonna album / soundtrack and still enjoy it. Never been a big Warren Beatty fan and didn’t enjoy the sticking of a “cute kid” into the story.

It’s also odd to think of the adaptation by Kyle Baker as being rare. I worked at a comic store in Dallas for a few years during college and we couldn’t get rid of them–they were always in our bargain section. Don’t know why–maybe the owner ordered way too many. I never bought it, because I am not the biggest Kyle Baker fan–I know, heresy, but though I have come to appreciate somewhat, back then I couldn’t stand his art.

Still nice to see these films becomming available.

Jim Kosmicki writes:  

Junior was not an addition of the filmmakers – he was part of the comic strip for decades. I believe he eventually married Moon Maid (i know, i know, the weird part of the strip’s history).

as for the rarity, the actual adaptation was around – I remember seeing copies discounted at a Walmart or Toys’R’Us store a year or so after the movie hype died down. But the two issues preceding the adaptation (and the trade paperback) were much more scarce in these parts. I believe that most comic store owners did not buy into the Dick Tracy hype – Gladstone had some nice comic book versions of the comic strip available at the time that died on the vine too.

argo plummer writes:  

I didn’t know that about Junior (did they just call him “The Kid” in the movie?)–I was never a huge Tracy reader, but didn’t have memories of seeing a kid character before.

I agree that the adaptation was pretty easy to find, but I remember seeing the other issues as well. I have no doubt they are harder to find today and maybe my memory is playing tricks on me.

Win Dick Tracy on Blu-ray » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] an extra copy of Dick Tracy on Blu-ray, and I’m giving it away […]

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