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…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

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.

What about the panties?

Sliver (1993)
(SPOILERS) It must have seemed like a no-brainer. Sharon Stone, fresh from flashing her way to one of the biggest hits of 1992, starring in a movie nourished with a screenplay from the writer of one of the biggest hits of 1992. That Sliver is one Stone’s better performing movies says more about how no one took her to their bosom rather than her ability to appeal outside of working with Paul Verhoeven. Attempting to replicate the erotic lure of Basic Instinct, but without the Dutch director’s shameless revelry and unrepentant glee (and divested of Michael Douglas’ sweaters), it flounders, a stupid movie with vague pretensions to depth made even more stupid by reshoots that changed the killer’s identity and exposed the cluelessness of the studio behind it.

Philip Noyce isn’t a stupid filmmaker, of course. He’s a more-than-competent journeyman when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare (Clear and Present Danger, Salt) also adept at “smart” smaller pictures (Rabbit Proof Fence