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

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…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

This is no time for puns! Even good ones.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)
Perhaps I've done DreamWorks Animation (SKG, Inc., etc.) a slight injustice. The studio has been content to run an assembly line of pop culture raiding, broad-brush properties and so-so sequels almost since its inception, but the cracks in their method have begun to show more overtly in recent years. They’ve been looking tired, and too many of their movies haven’t done the business they would have liked. Yet both their 2014 deliveries, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, take their standard approach but manage to add something more. Dragon 2 has a lot of heart, which one couldn’t really say about Peabody (it’s more sincere elements feel grafted on, and largely unnecessary). Peabody, however, is witty, inventive and pacey, abounding with sight gags and clever asides while offering a time travel plotline that doesn’t talk down to its family audience.

I haven’t seen the The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, from which Mr. Peabody & Sh…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

He’d been clawed to death, as though by some bird. Some huge, obscene bird.

The Avengers 5.6: The Winged Avenger
Maybe I’m just easily amused, such that a little Patrick Macnee uttering “Ee-urp!” goes a long way, but I’m a huge fan of The Winged Avenger. It’s both a very silly episode and about as meta as the show gets, and one in which writer Richard Harris (1.3: Square Root of Evil, 1.10: Hunt the Man Down) succeeds in casting a wide net of suspects but effectively keeps the responsible party’s identity a secret until late in the game.

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" …

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

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.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …