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Monday, July 30, 2012

Dick Tracy

I'm sure that many of you know this about me by now, but I am what you could call a non-traditional comic book geek.

What I mean by non-traditional is that I tend to like comics that other people may dismiss as being fluff. I get a bit of grief from a few of my friends over my obsessive love for all things Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica, but I make no apologies for my love of the Riverdale Crew.

I also make no apologies for reading Casper The Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Simpsons Comics, Super Mario Comics, or ALF Comics.

(And, yes, there actually was a comic book based on the 1980s television sitcom, ALF.)

That's not to say that I absolutely hate more traditional comic books such as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Silver Surfer, Captain America, or any other comic that features a superhero of some sort. I admire the fact that those characters have managed to have a following for eight decades or more. But, when it comes to reading comic books, I'd just rather stick to my Archies.

Besides, I may be in the rare minority here, but I actually enjoy superhero comic books more when they are adapted onto the big screen. I enjoy a lot of the movies that are based on superhero comic books. I enjoyed 1989's “Batman”, as well as many of the sequels that followed it (well, with the exception of the lame Batman & Robin movie...George Clooney may be a fantastic actor, but in my opinion, I didn't think he fit the Batman role). The late Christopher Reeve was brilliant as Superman. And, Andrew Garfield has certainly been making a name for himself recently by being the latest actor to don the red and blue tights to become Spider-Man.

Today's blog entry is all about a feature film starring a comic strip character. It was one of 1990's top summer blockbusters, despite the fact that reviews for the movie were mixed. The film managed to make over $160 million in theatres, and ended up winning three Academy Awards, which included Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Original Song.

The song that won the “Best Original Song” award for this film was the Stephen Sondheim composition “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”. It was sang by Madonna, and was placed on her 1990 album, “I'm Breathless”, which also included this number one smash by the singer.

ARTIST: Madonna
SONG: Vogue
ALBUM: I'm Breathless
DATE RELEASED: March 20, 1990

Now, here's a little bit of trivia for you all. Although “Vogue” was clearly the biggest hit from “I'm Breathless”, the song itself never appeared within this film (It was actually recorded in December 1989 and was originally a B-side for Madonna's single “Keep It Together”). And, while we're on the subject of “I'm Breathless”, although it could technically be called a Madonna album, it doubled as the one of the official soundtrack albums of the film that we're going to discuss in this blog today (the name of the album stemming from the character Madonna portrayed in the film).

That film, of course, is the 1990 film “Dick Tracy”, which starred Warren Beatty, Madonna, Charlie Korsmo, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Mandy Patinkin, Dick Van Dyke, and Paul Sorvino, amongst others. With that much star power, it's easy to see why people flocked to see it.

As I mentioned before, Dick Tracy originated as a comic strip. On October 4, 1931, the comic strip made its debut in the Detroit Mirror. The character was a private detective who always wore a bright yellow trenchcoat and hat.

Dick Tracy was created by Chester Gould (1900-1985), at a time in which violence was a common sight in 1930s era Chicago. To Gould's credit, he managed to keep up with the latest innovations involving crime fighting techniques, because he wanted to make the comic strip appear as realistic as he possibly could make least in the earliest days of the comic.

The comic strip occasionally hosted “whodunnit” plotlines, but for the most part, the strips usually involved Dick Tracy chasing a perpetrator through the city streets. In between the criminal's desperation to escape and Tracy's unrelenting persistence in catching the bad guys, mysteries would be solved, and cases would be closed.

Perhaps some of the most interesting aspects of the Dick Tracy serial included the villains that popped up to wreak havoc. The villains were purposely drawn to appear warped and deformed to contrast with Dick Tracy's view of the world through black and white coloured glasses. Some of these villains included Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice, Mumbles, Flattop, 88 Keys, Numbers, Lips Manlis, Spuds Spaldoni, Pruneface, and Influence.

As it so happens, these villians all appeared in the movie adaptation of 1990, and judging by how these actors appeared on screen, it's easy to see how the movie won the “Best Makeup” Academy Award. Just take a look at Flattop (Forsythe), Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong), and Lips Manlis (Sorvino) below.

TRIVIA: In the 1945 adaptation for Dick Tracy, Mike Mazurki played the role of Dick Tracy villain “Splitface”. He makes a cameo appearance in the 1990 film.

I should also mention that the 1990 version of “Dick Tracy” wouldn't have been made possible without Warren Beatty. Not only did he play the iconic role, but he also served as producer and director! How's that for a man of many talents?

As it so happened, Beatty had wanted to do a feature film adaptation of “Dick Tracy” since 1975! Back then, the film rights were held by Michael Laughlin, who gave them up to Tribune Media Services after an unsuccessful attempt to pitch a film idea involving Dick Tracy to Hollywood. The rights to Dick Tracy were then purchased by Floyd Mutrux and Art Linson in 1977, and three years later, United Artists became interested in developing the film.

But in the ten years between then and when the film's June 15, 1990 release date, a lot of things happened that delayed the project. Chester Gould initially wanted financial and artistic control, killing the initial deal that United Artists had made, but his death in 1985 meant that the film rights were once again up for grabs. The film went through a couple of directors, including John Landis (who left the project) and Richard Benjamin before Beatty assumed the role. Warren Beatty wasn't the only one considered for the role of Dick Tracy. Other actors who could have played the title role included Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson. As well, the production was shifted to several studios, including Paramount and Walt Disney.

Disney eventually greenlighted the Dick Tracy movie in 1988 with the condition that the film's budget wouldn't exceed $25 million. Well...with the money spent by Disney to promote the film, the production costs ended up being four times that amount! Thankfully, the film showed a profit!

As far as the plot of the movie goes, there's really not a whole lot to say about it. It starts off in the streets of Chicago where a street kid (Korsmo) is the unfortunate witness of a mob massacre at a rigged card game, and runs away to avoid being harmed himself. He literally runs into Dick Tracy (who catches him partaking in some petty crimes), and introduces himself as 'The Kid'. With the help of Tracy's girlfriend, Tess Truehart (Glenne Headly), Tracy adopts 'The Kid'.

At the same time, Big Boy (Pacino), the mobster behind the massacre at the beginning of the film, claims his next victim. After Lips Manlis signs over the deed to his club, “Club Ritz” to Big Boy, Big Boy not only dispatches him, but steals his girlfriend away, sultry club singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna). One thing that one should know about Big Boy is that he has been at the center of some rather serious crimes, including vandalism, robbery, and murder. But for whatever reason, he always seems to escape incarceration, as there has never been any witnesses to testify against him.

As a result, Dick Tracy has made it his mission to find Big Boy, and put him on ice for good. But as one will see as they watch the film, the road to justice will not be an easy one. With Dick Tracy resorting to interrogating criminals in order to pin something on Big Boy, you know that it will never end well. Sure enough, Dick Tracy ends up in one dangerous situation after another! It's a good thing that he and “The Kid” ended up getting along so well.

Then there's the mysterious Breathless Mahoney, who immediately takes a shining to our yellow cloaked detective. Despite the fact that Tracy and Trueheart are an item, this doesn't stop Breathless from staking her claim. Of course, Dick Tracy only sees Breathless as a potential witness in his quest to get rid of Big Boy, but when things get complicated, who ends up getting hurt?

And who, or what, is the mysterious figure known as “The Blank”?

I guarantee you that if you watch this film, all the answers will be revealed.

And that's about all that I have to say about the film “Dick Tracy”. But one final note. At the time of the film's casting process, Madonna and Warren Beatty were in a very public romantic relationship. Now, to Madonna's credit, when she got the part of Breathless Mahoney, she insisted on working for scale, as she didn't want to make it seem as though she got the part because of her romance with Beatty.

But knowing that Warren Beatty and Madonna were involved romantically while Dick Tracy was being filmed, it certainly makes the song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” seem much more...poignant.

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