The beginning is familiar – a woman is murdered while walking down a backlot suburban street at night, and it’s up to Tracy, Dick, to solve it. Let’s meet the gang, who I presume will be with us for the next six movies. Sidekick and comic relief, Pat Patton:
Pat Patton was played by Lyle Latell, which may have had the same amusing effect Asian audiences as “Kam Fong as Chin Ho” had on Westerners. For the obligatory dame, we have Phyllis Claveringing as Tess Trueheart, Jiffy Pop hairstyle model:
She wants to marry Tracy but is always given short shrift by Dick’s devotion to crime-solving. Especially if that fiend Short Shrift is up to his usual tricks. (Actually, that’s the lovely Anne Jeffreys, who’s almost 86 as of this writing.) Sound familiar? Same dame-avoidance scheme as Bulldog Drummond.
Here’s Tracy. Doesn’t look a thing like Warren Beatty. Or Dick Tracy:
If you're going to have a character based on someone with famously sharp features, don't choose a guy who looks like a slightly melted fun-sized Burt Lancaster cross-bred with Hume Cronyn.
Dogged policework (i.e., opening up the victim’s purse and pawing through its contents to find an extortion note) reveals the killer as a chap named “Splitface.” This being a Dick Tracy film, that means the character will be instantly recognizable, since the villains in Tracy comics were always named after distinctive physical traits that made it easy for associates and victims to describe them to the police. “Who killed the stool pigeon, pal? You’re going to the chair unless you tell us!”
“Okay, okay! It was Big Ears! He done it!
“He’s got enormous ears!”
(Tracy, to fellow investigator) “Yes, that’s Big ears, all right. I recognize the description. I thought this sounded like his work.”
It makes you anxious to meet Splitface, especially since every thing else in the film moves at a glacial pace. It’s hard to imagine people paid much attention ton this movie when it appeared in the theater – it wasn’t the top-billed show, and it probably wasn’t the second feature. It ran in the middle of the bill on a Saturday afternoon, as one imdb comment suggested, and as such was something to keep the screen warm while people wandered in and drifted out.
The pulse-pounding action is almost too much to bear, and sums it all up. The director must have said “just play it suspicious, guys.” What you do mean? “You’re suspicious, and you have something to hide. Or vice versa, I don’t care. Speak slow and use every syllable, because we really have to pad this movie out to make an hour.”
"Fine, but what’s this scene about?"
"You’re walking from the front door to the back door. Six shots, and you know what that means: six takes total. I’m hungry and the cafeteria has stew today. Okay, places. Speed. Sound. Annnnnd . . . sort of moving around in a fashion that might be construed as action." This may be my favorite moment in the movie, simply for the way Tracy reads his lines with such rich enthusiastic gusto, and the way the other fellow pronounces his ill-fitting name. As well as the thrilling sequence in which Tracy says he's going out the back way, and does go out the back way, and we get to see the door closed behind him as he goes out the back way.
Here’s Splitface, incidentally.
More like “Diagonal Wound Face,” if you're bering picky.
There’s a minxydame who makes Tess Truehart jealous; she appears to be about 14. Question: hair, or hat?
Finally, the action ends near a theater, and take a look at those movies:
They’re real movies. Even "Ding Dong Williams." So, do they get Splitface in the end? No, they shot him in the chest.
Sorry. Sixty-one minutes of this dreck has a depressing effect on the imagination. land.