Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Film Review: Red Heat (1988)

Release Date: June 14th, 1988 (premiere)
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Harry Kleiner, Troy Kennedy Martin
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle, Ed O’Ross, Gina Gershon, Laurence Fishburne, Richard Bright, Brion James, Peter Jason

Carolco Pictures, Lone Wolf, Oak, TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Since I figure cops are cops the world over, how do you Soviets deal with all the tension and stress?” – Commander Lou Donnelly CPD, “Vodka.” – Ivan Danko

Red Heat was a part of a string of really good Schwarzenegger films (omitting the weak Raw Deal from that string). There was just something great about Arnie in the 80s and Red Heat is another good example of how cool and bad ass the Austrian Adonis was in his prime.

The film also benefits from being written and directed by Walter Hill, another man that was at the top of his game in the 80s, coming off of directing a string of great pictures: Hard TimesThe WarriorsThe Long Riders48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire. He also directed Brewster’s Millions, which wasn’t his normal forte but was still an entertaining vehicle for both Richard Pryor and John Candy.

The film also has some notable other actors in it: Laurence Fishburne, Peter Boyle, Gina Gershon, Brion James and Richard Bright. Then there is James Belushi, the other star and comedic half of the cop duo but oddly, I’ve never been a big Belushi fan and find his presence kind of distracting and the main negative aspect of the picture. But hey, at least this is better than K-9.

Honestly, there was probably a ton of great comedic actors that could have played alongside Schwarzenegger better than Belushi but this film is almost thirty years old and Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray or Richard Pryor probably cost too much. But hell, they couldn’t get Dan Aykroyd or Harold Ramis? Dudley Moore? Dabney Coleman? Roger Dangerfield? Tony friggin’ Danza?

Walter Hill has a very straightforward style with his directing. However, he still captures a certain sort of magic that set the quality of his films apart from others in the 80s action genre. His pictures look crisp and pristine and just very well produced. The mix of the Soviet Union scenes with urban Chicago gives this picture a cool visual dichotomy that enhances the contrast between the Soviet cop and the Chicago Police Department. The urban scenes also have that same sort of lively grittiness that Hill gave us with The Warriors48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire.

Ivan Danko is one of the coolest Schwarzenegger characters of all-time, to the point that it would have been cool to have seen him return in some form in another project or a sequel – preferably without Belushi. Arnie was just able to nail the role and he just looked like a tough as nails manly man in his Soviet cop uniform. He was an intimidating presence and the persona and visual vibe fit the actor to a t.

While this is not the balls out action masterpieces that Commando or Predator were, it definitely fits in the upper echelon of Schwarzenegger’s work. Walter Hill and Arnie worked really well together and it would have been cool to see them re-team but as of yet, that hasn’t happened.