Skip to main content

You're right. When you're right, you're right and you are right.

Dick Tracy
(1990)

(SPOILERS) So, I pretty much denounced Dick Tracy at first sight. I couldn’t understand why it seemed to be getting such a charitable response, since it fundamentally failed to understand the hows and whys of translating a comic to the big screen, certainly in terms of capturing the thrill or dynamism of reading one of the things. I had problems with Batman, but at least it featured Burton-esque quirks and a couple of memorable performances. Dick Tracy just sat there, oblivious, its only noteworthy aspect being an eyeball-grazing colour palette.


But, I reasoned, said appraisal took place prior to my discovery and appreciation of all things Warren Beatty. Or at least, all things, or at least most things, Warren Beatty in the 1970s, as long all those things were his actual 1970s movies (and Reds, but that may as well have been the 1970s). I don’t tend to rewatch movies I thought were lousy in the first place unless I think the passage of time, or some redeeming aspects, may merit the effort; I’m not a complete masochist. And I’d been thinking about revisiting this one for a while. Maybe I’d just completely misunderstood it, expected the wrong things. And, having rated highly two-and-a-half of the actor’s other pictures as a director (Heaven Can Wait is nice, but weightless), it seemed quite possible. Alas, I was right to begin with. If anything, Dick Tracy is even less worthwhile than I recalled. Increasingly, the best thing that came of it seems to have been Beatty’s batty press conference (which Empire magazine diligently transcribed in one of its early issues; alas, I no longer have a copy to quote from).


Beatty wasn’t just jumping on the Batwagon; he’d been interested in exposing us to his Dick since ’75, which may be why, in pace, tone and general muster, the movie is closer to some of the non-Superman comic book flicks (Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, Popeye), acutely self-conscious of its origins. To such an extent in terms of art direction that some are sure to cite it as an inspiration for Sin City.


A roster of directors, studios and stars rolled by, much as they did before Burton landed Batman, including John Landis and Walter Hill. When Jeffrey Katzenberg arrived at Disney, he kick-started it with Beatty, who opted to helm, but the exec, whose policy (in tandem with Mike Ovitz) of low-budget, high-concept hits had turned around the Mouse House, put what he thought were safeguards in place to prevent another Reds-sized budget malfunction; it didn’t work out. Including marketing, Tracy ended up costing what it grossed in the US, and the attempts to cash-in with merchandise à la Batman went tits-up. And people wonder why the superhero genre took so long to find its feet (and in some cases, or rather with some studios, it’s still struggling). Katzenberg was, famously, outspoken about the error in calculation (“We made demands on our time, talent and treasury that, upon reflection, may not have been worth it”).


The picture’s a strange beast, which might well have been in its favour if it wasn’t so static, passive in performance, pace and plot. Beatty the director focuses on the hero’s romantic tribulations, with Beatty the actor falling back on the slightly self-effacing, tongue-tied quality, the guy playing someone who isn’t that emotionally intelligent, we saw in his ‘70s persona, but with the added gag of the renowned lothario not being so assured with the ladies. Too much time is taken up with torpid treatment of unpersuasive content; we’re supposed to care about Tracy’s relationship with the Kid, but it doesn’t really play. Glenne Headly is outstanding as Tess Trueheart, lending depth and soul to the devoted girlfriend, but you can’t help feeling she’s too good for a movie that has no room for anything more than a grotesque/ungainly caricature.


The plot’s a parade of gangster motifs – concrete overcoats, squealers and snitchers, attempted hits, police raids and framings – none of them especially engaging. There’s a single feat of superheroics, in which Tracy jumps up out of skylight, so of course it made the trailer. There’s a mysterious assassin, The Blank, whose performance is all the better for not knowing its Madonna behind the mask.


Who is pretty bad, looking the part of Breathless Mahoney but over-deliberate and self-conscious in delivery (“I sweat a lot better in the dark” is about seductive as a leaky faucet). Al Pacino, mystifyingly received an Oscar nomination for Big Boy Caprice, indulges in a tirade of shameless mugging that would set the tone for too much of his subsequent career. He’s big and broad, but neither fun nor enthused, so fundamentally missing what made Nicholson’s big and broad performance in Batman such a hit; magnetism.


Dustin Hoffman is fun as Mumbles, though, nailing the tone of cartoonishness and humour the picture occasionally seems to be ineptly angling for elsewhere, as his confession is literally sweated under lights (similarly, he’d be the highlight of another expensive turkey the following year, Hook). Perhaps that’s the problem. For all Beatty’s talents, and purported devotion to the strip cartoon, he has no real facility with such exaggerated tone and content. His stabs at humour work best when he keeps a foot in the real world (Bulworth); even striving for the Hope and Crosby vibe isn’t really his forte (Ishtar).


Other notable actors who show up, mostly shrouded under prosthetics, include William Forsythe, Mandy Patinkin (who almost manages to turn his piano player-turned-villain’s-stooge into something interesting, but only almost), Paul Sorvino, Dick van Dyke, Henry Silva, James Caan and RG Armstrong. Most of them have little, aside from the facial appliances, to make them stand out.


Whether it’s the attempts to supply action or dusting down the domestic material, none of it quite works. None of it’s actually painful, the way much of Hook would be, but Tracy bludgeons you with indifference to your attentiveness. Rumoured directors on Beatty’s list, before he took up the megaphone, included Scorsese (temperamentally wrong, I suspect), Bob Fosse (now that might have worked) and Tim Burton (plain lazy thinking). Speaking of lazy, Danny Elfman is drafted into provide a serviceable but undemanding score, dutifully meeting Disney’s demand to give them some of that Batthing (hence Madonna providing the soundtrack, just as Prince had done for Warner Bros the year before).


The irony is, a really stylish, ‘30s set crime yarn, with larger-than-life villains and a truer-than-true hero bringing them to justice, with gorgeous set-pieces and classic hardboiled dialogue, was made only three years earlier: Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Okay, one isn’t quite the other, but it shows Beatty, bereft of a prosthetic nose, was sniffing around Dick Tracy with blocked sinuses. And yet, a measure of studios’ grasp of the genre at the time, his movie was still the most successful of a string of ‘30s heroes adapted during the ‘90s, with The Shadow and The Phantom also failing to hit the spot.


And, in some respects, that the picture did as well as it did is a testament to the unwholesomely persuasive power of marketing; Madonna’s musicality (rather than performance) gave it free publicity, the Disney Store promotions and MacDonald’s tie-in put it squarely in the public consciousness. So it didn’t really matter that kids had no real interest in seeing an over-the-hill star attempting to play comic book hero; it was turned into a thing to see, so people went to see it.


Also, in fairness, Tracy didn’t do a turkey-like nosedive at the box office in its second weekend, it just didn’t have legs; Batman, which opened to nearly twice the amount, stuck around in the Top 10 for 13 weeks. Tracy scraped seven. In today’s equivalences, this was a $200m grosser, so a studio would be firing up a sequel. But the reality was closer to the Burton Planet of the Apes movie (more financially successful than the recent reboots), with which no one was really very happy.


Beatty has murmured about a sequel intermittently, but that’s more to do with retaining the rights than serious intent (hence a 2008 in-character interview); Disney certainly didn’t care, relinquishing its interest to him years back. No doubt Dick Tracy will live again at some point, but how to make it actually appeal and work on the screen, rather than motoring ahead simply because someone has rights to a property they’re trying to make a buck off (most recent example; boorish oaf Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet); that’s the question.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Full shading pamphlet printing more often than not implies standard four-shading printing, and is presently offered at practically every handout printing organization. Four-shading printing is additionally alluded to as standard shading printing and utilizes cyan (blue), fuchsia, yellow, and dark inks, regularly contracted to "CMYK." Most PC programming projects will change over any content or picture to CMYK, and this is normally a necessity of printers. http://www.mordocrosswords.com/2016/11/miss-trueheart-of-dick-tracy.html

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

We’re going to find that creature they call the Yeti.

The Abominable Snowman (1957)
The Abominable Snowman follows the first two Quatermass serials as the third Hammer adaptation of a Nigel Kneale BBC work. As with those films, Val Guest takes the directorial reins, to mixed results. Hammer staple Peter Cushing repeats his role from The Creature (the title of the original teleplay). The result is worthy in sentiment but unexceptional in dramatic heft. Guest fails to balance Kneale’s idea of essentially sympathetic creatures with the disintegration of the group bent on finding them.

Nevertheless, Kneale’s premise still stands out. The idea that the Yeti is an essentially shy, peaceful, cryptozoological beastie is now commonplace, but Kneale adds a further twist by suggesting that they are a distinct and in some respects more advance parallel branch in the evolution of hominids (the more extravagant notion that they are in some way extra-dimensional is absent, but with the powers thy sport here wouldn’t be such a leap). Cushing’s Rollason is…