Connect with us
Dick Tracy Movie Review

Film

There Are So Many Reasons to Recommend Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy, 30 Years Later

In the summer of 1990, Warren Beatty’s labor-of-love, Dick Tracy, became a surprise commercial hit, earned acclaim for its visuals and technical artistry, and went on to win a number of high-profile awards. Its cast was bursting with stars and beloved character actors. So why, 30 years on, does it feel so forgotten?

Certainly, director-producer-star Beatty created a visual masterpiece and proved that “style over substance” isn’t always a bad thing. The design team was limited to the seven colors available to comic strip creator Chester Gould, and the movie reproduces that vivid look as faithfully as any live-action film could. From the spectacular flight across the twilit city that appears under the opening credits, it’s clear that Dick Tracy is something different.

Moments later, Gould’s trademark Rogues’ Gallery villains make their first appearance, brought to life by the makeup of John Caglione, Jr. and Doug Drexler, who would go on to create the iconic makeup for The Dark Knight. The work of production designer Richard Sylbert, costumer Milena Canonero, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro are in such lockstep that exteriors, interiors, and costumes all seem created by a single designer. The bold strokes of color draw on expressionist theory and create images like nothing seen before or since.

Its cast also impresses. Beatty delivers the arch dialogue of his unapologetically square hero (also a holdover from the comic strip) with a straight face; Tracy punches out the bad guys and tells the Kid to drink his milk with equal sincerity. Glenne Headley is dependable as always as Tracy’s main squeeze, Tess Trueheart. Al Pacino steals scenes as crime boss Big Boy Caprice, and though her acting wobbles, Madonna sings Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim’s original tunes well and looks great as nightclub chanteuse Breathless Mahoney. Dustin Hoffman and James Caan cameo and recognizable faces are everywhere, among them Mandy Patinkin, Dick Van Dyke, Charles Durning, Michael J. Pollard, Paul Sorvino, Seymour Cassel, and John Schuck. Character actors Ed O’Ross, Henry Silva, R.G. Armstrong, and William Forsythe are unrecognizable under prosthetics. Blink and you’ll miss Kathy Bates, Catherine O’Hara, and Estelle Parsons.

Dick Tracy Movie Review

As it was raking in $103 million at the box office, holding its own in a season that boasted such heavy hitters as Total Recall and Die Hard 2Dick Tracy garnered critical praise for its technical and artistic achievements. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including one for Pacino’s manic performance, and won for makeup, art direction, and Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man).” The Golden Globes bestowed it with a nod for Best Musical or Comedy.

But though Dick Tracy seems to have everything going for it, its legacy doesn’t live up to its credentials. The emphasis on stylization and period setting gives the movie a timelessness, so it hasn’t dated as badly as it might have, but its faults have been there from the beginning. As one of the last summer blockbusters created without CGI, it relied on hand-painted backdrops that had to be filmed without moving the camera, leaving some scenes feeling a bit static. Danny Elfman’s score is suitably heroic if a bit derivative of his seminal music for Tim Burton’s Batman the year before. Of course, the screenplay is right out of the comic strip hero playbook, and a “surprise” reveal seems a little tacked-on. But perhaps most damaging is the movie’s lack of a single memorable scene. Instead, what lingers in the mind after viewing Dick Tracy are the eye-popping colors and monstrous baddies. At worst, the movie is like a gallery exhibit that may impress but doesn’t demand a second look.

In the ensuing decades, this remarkable work got lost as something of a curio. But there is still much to recommend it, not least to witness the artistry filmmakers can achieve without relying on digital toys. In an era of expanding budgets, CGI excess, and more-of-the-same comic adaptations, Dick Tracy is ready for rediscovery.

Written by M. Robert Grunwald

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

Now Streaming

Written By

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Pop Culture From All Angles

Sordid Cinema Podcast

Trending

Revisiting the 24 Best Kobe Bryant Moments Revisiting the 24 Best Kobe Bryant Moments

Revisiting the 24 Best Kobe Bryant Moments

TV

Kobe Bryant Death Kobe Bryant Death

Kobe Bryant and Greatness

TV

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches of All time Greatest Royal Rumble Matches of All time

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches

Wrestling

Calendar Girls performing in a parking lot. Calendar Girls performing in a parking lot.

Calendar Girls: A Remarkable Debut About Reclaiming Your Life

Film

Who is still alive in Yellowjackets?

TV

Archive 81, Pictured: Mamoudou Athie Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix © 2021 Archive 81, Pictured: Mamoudou Athie Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix © 2021

The Analog Terror of Archive 81

TV

For He Is a Liar and the Father of Lies For He Is a Liar and the Father of Lies

The Righteous Gemstones: “For He Is a Liar and the Father of Lies” Muddies the Holy Water

TV

All That Breathes All That Breathes

All That Breathes Shows an Ecosystem in Turmoil

Film

The Book of Boba Fett review "The Gathering Storm" Chapter 4 episode The Book of Boba Fett review "The Gathering Storm" Chapter 4 episode

The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 4 Builds and Fulfills With a Storm of Excitement

TV

Censor review 2021 horror movie Censor review 2021 horror movie

Sordid Cinema Podcast #609: Why Censor is one of the Best Horror Films of 2021

Sordid Cinema Podcast

How I Met Your Father Just Doesn’t Have the Magic

TV

Leonor Will Never Die Leonor Will Never Die

Leonor Will Never Die is a Heartfelt Ode to Cinema

Film

Connect